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Knowt Builds Online Education App on AWS to Help Students and Teachers

2021

Fast-growing educational technology startup Knowt developed an app to change the way students and teachers study and create assessments. Using a powerful algorithm and artificial intelligence, the app quickly and automatically converts notes from students and teachers into quizzes and flash cards. The original version of the app was born in 2016, just after Knowt CEO Abheek Pandoh graduated high school. In school, he and Knowt cofounder Daniel Like saw an opportunity to improve the way that students study by generating study materials from students’ written notes. The company started building an app for Android and soon expanded to iOS and the web.

However, by 2018, the startup had noticed an area in need of improvement. It found that many users didn’t just want to create their own notes and flash cards; they also wanted to study from materials that others had already created. To better serve these users, Knowt began a major shift toward crowdsourcing notes and sharing study materials. “We wanted to be a one-stop shop for notes, quizzes, and flash cards,” says Pandoh. “We had to start focusing on sharing content.” It was at this point that Knowt decided to go all in on Amazon Web Services (AWS), engaging AWS EdStart, an educational technology startup accelerator, for support and expertise. “The AWS EdStart team knew the best ways to build the product we wanted to build,” says Abhi Patel, chief operating officer at Knowt. “We were able to solve challenges quickly and meet our release timeline.”

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By using AWS Amplify and GraphQL APIs on AWS AppSync, we streamlined the whole development process. Using these AWS services has made building in the cloud very simple.”

Abhi Patel
Chief Operating Officer, Knowt

Increasing Agility and Scale on Serverless Architecture

In late 2018, Knowt began building its new cloud architecture using AWS Amplify, a fast, simple way to build scalable mobile and web applications, and AWS AppSync, a fully managed service that makes it easy to develop GraphQL APIs by handling the heavy lifting of securely connecting to data sources, as well as other AWS services. Using a GraphQL API, the Knowt app can request and combine data from multiple sources in a single network request, simplifying and optimizing the flow of data from the backend to the user. Knowt also uses AWS Lambda, a serverless compute service that lets customers run code without provisioning or managing servers, to query the database. Each request for information goes through AWS AppSync, which calls the proper Lambda functions and quickly returns the data to the front end. In addition, AWS AppSync scales automatically, so Knowt can focus on improving its app’s features instead of managing servers.

Meanwhile, AWS Amplify handles account creation, user authentication, and account management in the Knowt app. Using AWS Amplify, Knowt was able to accelerate the development of sign-up, sign-in, and other common workflows in the application and deliver a better experience to users. Using the simplicity of GraphQL APIs and the performance of AWS, Knowt was able to develop and deploy rapidly. “By using AWS Amplify and GraphQL APIs on AWS AppSync, we streamlined the whole development process,” says Patel. “Using these AWS services has made building in the cloud very simple.” In just 6 months, the startup launched the new version of its app.

Improving Quiz- and Flash Card–Generation Speed with Machine Learning on AWS

The company wanted to make its quiz- and flash card–generation tool operate even faster and better connect users with flash cards and quizzes that other users create and share. To power its algorithm, Knowt uses Amazon SageMaker, which helps data scientists and developers to prepare, build, train, and deploy high-quality machine learning models quickly. Using Amazon SageMaker, Knowt can turn users’ notes into quizzes and flash cards in near real time. “You can write down whatever information you’ll need in your notes,” says Pandoh. “Knowt will organize it and present it so that you can start studying.” Using the cloud-based training tools and automation features from Amazon SageMaker, Knowt was able to significantly improve the performance of its app. The company’s deployment is smoother using Amazon SageMaker, saving time and reducing the amount of team resources dedicated to maintenance.

Continuing to Grow and Innovate in the Cloud

On its existing AWS foundation, Knowt was able to continue building out its cloud technology stack quickly. “Our team was small in the beginning,” says Patel. “Because we had the basic framework laid out on AWS early on, it was simple to keep building.” In just the first half of 2021, Knowt increased its user base by 35 percent, from 20,000 to 27,000 accounts. “We’ve transformed our product from a self-study tool to a tool for learning from shared notes,” says Pandoh. To further help students share and explore student- and teacher-generated content, Knowt built a search feature using its existing managed GraphQL API. Through a single API call, AWS AppSync returns data from multiple sources quickly and securely so that Knowt can deliver a faster user experience.

As Knowt expanded its cloud infrastructure, it made another major shift: the company launched a full online learning management system for educators. “Teachers can use Knowt to create assignments from their notes instantly,” says Pandoh. When students complete assignments on Knowt, their grades immediately appear in the teacher’s dashboard. “We’re focused on making the online classroom better,” says Pandoh. “We want to help teachers create online assignments with ease.” With over 4,000 active monthly users—a number that is quickly growing—Knowt is focused on adding more content to its database. It launched the KnowtTakers program, which lets students earn volunteer hours or money for contributing new notes to the service. The community has over 200 participants creating notes for over 60 textbooks.

In the spring of 2021, Knowt released its newest app update. “After we launched the latest version, the AWS team had lots of innovative ideas that we’d like to implement,” says Patel. In addition to building competitive new features, the company plans to focus on further expanding its content library. It has already begun adding content based on textbooks to help students find notes from the materials they use in class. “We’ve evolved the app several times and changed a lot of its core features,” says Pandoh. “Now we’ve established the right solution on AWS.”

About Knowt

Knowt is an educational technology startup that uses artificial intelligence to automatically create quizzes and flash cards from students’ notes in seconds. The company’s app also lets teachers automatically generate assignments.

Benefits of AWS

  • Increased algorithm speed using artificial intelligence
  • Accessed data quickly using scalable GraphQL APIs
  • Improved performance of its mobile and web applications
  • Helps users share notes, quizzes, and flash cards
  • Grew user base by 35%—from 20,000 to 27,000 accounts
  • Made user content fully searchable
  • Deployed online learning management system


AWS Services Used

AWS EdStart

AWS EdStart, the AWS educational technology (EdTech) startup accelerator, is designed to help entrepreneurs build the next generation of online learning, analytics, and campus management solutions on the AWS Cloud.

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AWS Amplify

AWS Amplify is a set of tools and services that can be used together or on their own, to help front-end web and mobile developers build scalable full stack applications, powered by AWS.

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AWS AppSync

AWS AppSync is a fully managed service that makes it easy to develop GraphQL APIs by handling the heavy lifting of securely connecting to data sources like AWS DynamoDB, Lambda, and more.

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Amazon SageMaker

Amazon SageMaker helps data scientists and developers to prepare, build, train, and deploy high-quality machine learning (ML) models quickly by bringing together a broad set of capabilities purpose-built for ML.

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