From language learning app to the future of education

13 November 2017

When Knowble entered the ESA BIC program in 2015, they had a simple yet revolutionary idea: why not use the GNSS-location of students, plus readily available news articles, to help them learn a (second) language? It has been shown that language learners pick up new vocabulary more quickly in concrete situations than from a text book. Knowble would offer users bite-sized pieces of news in their target language, depending on where they were and what they were doing.

Changing focus

Two years later, the technology stands and the company has successfully graduated from the ESA BIC program. However, the focus of the company has expanded somewhat. “We ran into some copyright issues concerning re-publishing newspaper articles in our app, especially outside The Netherlands. So it became difficult to scale to a global market,” Knowble’s managing director Jozef Misik explains. “But educational publishers were very interested in our algorithms and the AI behind the application. So we pivoted to becoming a technology provider to educational publishers.”

Knowble now focuses on developing tools that help publishers produce their textbooks and other educational materials. “We mostly optimize business processes in the back end: understanding the difficulty of a text, making sense of a lot of content automatically, analyzing where a text is from.”

Robot teachers?

With their algorithms, Knowble connects to a much larger societal issue. “Last year, UNESCO warned that there will be a massive teacher shortage by 2050. The amount of knowledge that is available and that children need to learn is growing. Also, people nowadays have to keep re-educating themselves after college. Education needs to be scaled to keep up with the demand.”

Misik certainly doesn’t propose replacing all teachers with robots, although he does see the role of computers in the classroom growing. “Right now there is usually 1 teacher per 20 kids. With the support of computers, that could grow to a ratio of 1 to 100. The teacher would become a type of manager or safekeeper, with more time to dedicate to the kids, instead of the study materials.”

Knowble will continue innovate education, moving beyond language learning and into different subjects. Keep an eye on the ESA BIC Noordwijk’s website and social media channels to keep up with the developments of Knowble and other alumni.