Knewton, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Join Ed Tech with Textbooks

A startup that designs online learning software has just inked a partnership with an established publishing firm that will allow its digital tools to be used by more than 5 million students by the end of this year, Venture Beat reports. Knewton will be working with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to offer a “digital component” to accompany traditional HMH-published textbooks.

According to Knewton’s COO David Liu, the company’s tools – which break down each lesson into blocks and provides software that help track student’s progress through each block – will compliment the course structure dictated by traditional textbooks. Although the deal concerns mainly software targeted at K12 classrooms, Liu points out that the concept is easily adaptable to any learning environment, be it primary, secondary, higher education or even professional development.

The first offering will be a “personal math trainer,” part of HMH’s flagship Go Math! program. With thousands of students using the Knewton offering, HMH will gain a better understanding about how students in each age group learn best.

As schools shift to new models of blended and online learning, startups like Knewton claim they will form the “foundation” for a new way of teaching. By teaming up with HMH and Pearson, Knewton can augment core curriculum materials that are widely used in schools.

Liu says that the company is not concerned with issues that might arise from schools being under-equipped to take advantage of digital content provided by Knewton. HMH has worked to assure that classrooms in which Knewton is expected to roll out have sufficient technology to support the product.

For Knewton, the partnership fulfills two important objectives that will help the company develop and grow. It will provide a direct market for its products, but also an opportunity to study more closely how students actually learn.

The larger goal for Knewton, according CEO Jose Ferreira (pictured above), is to create the world’s most valuable repository on how people learn. Ferreira is a former executive at education firm Kaplan and an ex-venture investor; he started the company in 2008.

This data will likely prove to be highly valuable, particularly with governments attempting to solve the crisis in education (high costs of tuition, overstretched school districts, out of control dropout rates, and so on) through technology

Knewton’s strategy has attracted strong interest as evidenced by a recently concluded successful funding round that raised $35 million for the company. The fundraising initiative was conducted by the venture firm Founders Fund, headed by the former co-founder of PayPal Peter Thiel.

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