Knewton, started four years ago in New York City by the 43-year-old Ferreira, builds its software into online classes that watch students’ every move: scores, speed, accuracy, delays, keystrokes, click-streams and drop-offs. “We’re physically collecting thousands of data points per student per day,” says Ferreira. Students go at their own pace, and the software continuously adapts to challenge and cajole them to learn based on their individual learning style. As individual students are correlated to the behaviors of thousands of other students, Knewton can make between 5 million and 10 million refinements to its data model every day. Psychometricians use similar principles to build standardized exams, but Knewton harvests way more data than testmakers ever will. Someday it will know what kids will get on the SAT, so they won’t have to take it.
“Online education,” says Ferreira, “is on the cusp of massive change, and only 100 cognoscenti know about it.”