Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head

Why Knewton need to Adapt

The debate about Adaptive Learning rages on after Knewton’s five posts on ELT Jam. People are feeling threatened – their livelihoods and everything they believe in seem to be under attack from Adaptive Learning. That’s emotional stuff. No wonder feelings are running high.

In my last post, I mentioned that I think ELT Jam and Knewton made mistakes in those articles. Actually I think it’s more than that. All five of those posts were just one big mistake, from beginning to end.

Sorry, ELT Jam – you know I love you. Sorry Knewton – you need a PR team.

Man those posts were long and hard to read. I kept having to take breaks. But it so happened that I was taking breaks while worshipping at the Youtube altar of Simon Sinek, the Start With Why guy. Watch this, it will change your life.  I don’t blame you if you don’t finish reading my post because you have to spend the rest of the day watching everything else you can find. I did.

My breaks made it very obvious what was wrong with those interviews. They were all about the what and not about the why. They were a motorway pile up of jargon. Here are the stats:

(1) 8155.00 rubric
(2) 5301.00 efficacy
(3) 2446.50 resonate
(4) 2038.88 requisite
(5) 1631.00 iterate
(6) 1191.92 personalise
(7) 1030.16 online
(8) 978.64 digital
(9) 679.58 proficient
(10) 652.40 comprehend
(11) 543.67 optimise
(12) 407.75 domain
(13) 313.65 globe
(14) 310.67 textbook
(15) 295.56 adapt
(16) 242.54 content
(17) 226.24 student
(18) 203.88 blend
(19) 184.72 publish
(20) 171.68 lever
(21) 140.60 infrastructure
(22) 127.42 insight
(23) 122.33 empower
(24) 116.24 data
(25) 115.13 author
(26) 104.11 platform
(27) 101.94 administer
(28) 97.86 maximise
(29) 94.10 tailor
(30) 89.99 outcome

(I’m happy to acknowledge the person who ran that analysis if they want to be)

This is the language to talk to the publishers with – not the ELT community. It sounds mechanical. It sounds uncaring, unfeeling. It sounds scary. Not to mention DULL.


People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Simon Sinek

What about why you invented this technology?  In real human terms please, Mr Liu. Leave all the detailed what stuff for another day. EFL loves idealogy. Give us that.

Now Knewton doesn’t actually need your support. Their customer is the publisher, not us, not even the students. But if they’re going to talk to the ELT community they might as well try and share our beliefs, the why, the part of their message that will appeal to their audience. Otherwise it provokes the raging mistrust that seems to be happening whenever Adaptive Learning is mentioned. Some people are starting to realise it’s not the end of teachers or teaching as we know it. But that’s not thanks to the way Knewton say what they’re saying.

If Knewton do start changing their style of informing people about Adaptive Learning, you can definitely believe what they say. It won’t just be spin.


Because they don’t need the ELT community to care. Their customer is the publisher.**

If you haven’t already, now watch this video about trust, belief and belonging being applied to business.

When we’re surrounded by people who believe what we believe, trust emerges. Simon Sinek

One of the commenters, analysed with this in mind, is a fscinating example of it.

I am left with the feeling that you would turn language learning into a mechanistic experience. You make it sound like language learning is entirely an additive experience whereas I see it as a transformational experience. How can you expect us to believe that you are going to care about our interests when you stick to the language of incremental learning while we all (many of us?) believe that language learning cannot be explained solely as a slow accumulation of stuff? Is there anyone on your staff willing to accept that and engage us mid-way? Because if there isn’t there should be. You should have someone on staff that argues against seeing language learning as the mere accumulation of stuff. That person would be the natural person to communicate with teachers as we believe we do more than simply help students accumulate facts one on top of another. We believe in transformation, we believe in emotion, we believe in desire, we believe in leadership. Can you imagine what kind of a partnership we could have if you believed in these things as well?

It’s a plea to Knewton that’s so heartfelt it’s touching. We make decisions based on how we feel. More Sinekisms!

Here’s what I advise Knewton to bear in mind the next time they try to engage with anyone who’s not a publisher. You can have this for free guys. I’m just trying to help. 🙂

1. None of us involved in ELT have learned anything adaptively, we need to have some sample task to do and feel empowered by. Or an example of when it would have been great if we had.

I was terrible at the Logic component of Philosophy at University because it was taught to the speed of the maths students in the class. I was fascinated by it but couldn’t keep up and had a blank in the exam. I had to drop it which is something I regret years later. Adaptive Learning would have enabled me to continue, I’m sure.

2. Then compile sounds bites of students saying why they’ve lost motivation about studying English. Lead the viewers almost into coming up with Adaptive Learning as a solution by themselves.

Then we’ll be ready to hear the How and What of Knewton’s ideas.

**Simon Sinek is totally influencing my writing style, I even sounded like him in class yesterday. 🙂


5 comments on “Why Knewton need to Adapt

  1. Michael Butler
    March 13, 2014

    Ah, now this is why we call ourselves a community!

  2. Academic-Zone
    March 17, 2014

    Great video! Very important topic and i feel the speaker did a great job “inspiring” the audience. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Pingback: English360 » Blog Archive » Humanizing adaptive learning for ELT

  4. Pingback: The view from between ELT and Edtech | Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

  5. Pingback: Humanizing adaptive learning for ELT | English360

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This entry was posted on March 12, 2014 by in ELT and tagged , , , , , , .
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