Special Education Tech: Interview with Kurzweil Education

Today’s edtech Q&A is not from a startup, but a 20-year-old company that was one of the earliest pioneers in the edtech space.

Kurzweil Education was founded in 1996, but its roots go back as far as 1976, with founder Ray Kurzweil’s invention of the Kurzweil Reading Machine, the world’s first reading system for the blind.

Since then, the name Kurzweil has become synonymous with special education software. Today Kurzweil Education offers proven, research-based, literacy solutions that enable learners to address their own unique learning challenges and build the skills and confidence to succeed in academically rigorous environments.

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Company at a Glance

Company name: Kurzweil Education

Date founded: 1996

Interviewee: John Jorgenson, Senior Vice President, Marketing

Website: kurzweiledu.com

Company Twitter: @CambiumTech

Company market segment:E-Learning

Product stage: Market

What does your company do? Who are your core customers?
At Kurzweil Education, we believe every learner deserves the opportunity to develop the literacy skills that lead to academic and personal success.

We serve learners and educators in the K-12, higher education and adult learning markets. Our products offer struggling learners new multi-sensory approaches to read, comprehend, synthesize, apply and demonstrate their knowledge. With our support, they become independent, confident learners who can achieve rigorous academic goals.

When learners are able to understand text on demand, use organizational and content management tools to jump-start their written work and demonstrate their knowledge, they can meet rigorous standards. They can turn struggle into success.

How did your company come across the problem you’re addressing? How did the company arrive at a solution?
Kurzweil Education was founded in 1996 from the roots of Ray Kurzweil’s Kurzweil Reading Machine, which aimed to address reading issues facing the blind and visually impaired. Our heritage is supporting those with learning disabilities and now, we leverage those technologies, supports and tools to broaden opportunities for every learner, including ELL students, students with learning differences and students who simply learn more successfully when they can experience multi-sensory content.

Using the principles of Universal Design for Learning, our solutions deliver content and tools that enable all learners to read, understand and demonstrate their learning.

What are you doing differently than your competitors? Do you expect to develop other differentiators in the future?
Because our solution is a comprehensive environment—where reading, studying and writing tools are integrated in the same program—struggling learners benefit from a seamless experience. Additionally, we are highly customizable. Our technology helps tailor each user’s experience to support the way they learn best.

What are you working on currently? What should we expect to see from your company in the next 12 months?
As the world changes around us, we continue to evolve our products to meet new needs. One primary objective we have is to make access to learning even easier, which is why we’re growing our Web-based offerings. As pioneers in the specialized field of reading technology, we have a history of regularly enhancing our features to help each unique learner. As such, we’ll continue to improve our products and features to ensure that learners and educators receive the highly personalized tools and support needed to excel.

How are you changing the face of education?
We strongly believe that great education technology solves real problems. Education will soon be a significantly more even playing field, where students with learning disabilities and impairments will be far more equipped for traditional learning environments.

Reading, writing, learning study skills and test taking can be a daunting task for individuals with learning difficulties. Kurzweil Education is powering change in this area, where learners have easy access to critical learning tools to ensure that they aren’t falling behind or being left out of the education race.

What other startups or product builds have you been a part of, and what was your role? How has your past career prepared you for your current role?
Most recently, I’ve helped grow another Cambium Learning Group business unit, Learning A-Z. Both companies are focused on delivering an enhanced brand of literacy. It starts with reading and writing, but also includes development of other 21st century skills like collaboration, critical-thinking, and communication. Both Kurzweil Education and Learning A-Z are leaders in making the growth of this kind of literacy possible, for all learners.

Who do you look to as a role model or mentor for your company?
We look to educators first and foremost. Without an empowered teacher working directly with a student, learning will be limited. That’s where we come in. As an educational technology company, we are only part of the solution—we need to work with others if we expect to realize our mission and impart meaningful change.

Where do you think the education technology market is going in the next five years, especially in your market segment?
National demographics highlight an increase in English language learners over the next five years. Research shows that technology, specifically Kurzweil 3000, can make a significant difference in supporting ELL development of decoding and fluency skills. Additionally, tools within Kurzweil 3000 can be used to help ELL students learn using the same curriculum as their peers.

Education technology dedicated to serving the ELL market will only continue to rise in the coming years.

What advice do you have for someone launching a company in the education technology market?
It all starts with the mission. If the world will not miss you if you disappear, it might be time to take a second look at what you think you bring to the table. From there, you need to have an inspired team in place who shares that passion and drive to make a difference. Today’s education technology landscape is changing rapidly. Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all resources and tools. Through smarter technology and empowered educators, today’s learners have new ways to unlock their own potential. It is a very exciting time.

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Hannah Nyren

Hannah Nyren

A Texan by birth but a Bostonian at heart, Hannah is an educational writer, AmeriCorps alum, and one-time StartupWeekend EDU (SWEDU) winning team member. She started her career at a Pearson-incubated edtech startup, but has since covered travel, food & culture, and even stonemasonry in addition to education.