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Education Giant Pearson Adapts To Digital Learning

Pearson, the world's largest educational publisher, recognized older students as online learning harbinger.

From the outside, at least, the greatest competitive threat to traditional education publishers would seem to be open educational resources (OER). Noncommercial OER is to instructional content what open-source code is to software.

But OER is just another facet of new education tactics, insists Hitchcock. "What we're seeing is more convergence," he said. Schools and teachers want ways to "weave them into a solution." To this he adds that because Pearson offers services for "every single element, except instruction, open source doesn't frighten us."

In fact, Pearson and the other big education publishers didn't always have this inclusive philosophy about OER, when they thought it was a competitor, says a former Pearson executive and now digital education strategist and analyst. There was a time when "all the big players thought the best they could do was lock it out," said Frank Catalano, a founding columnist at GeekWire and a Pearson senior VP from 2004 to 2008. "But this is a customer-driven business," Catalano continued. "Customers said flat out, "'We want to use these materials.'"

Catalano believes Pearson's biggest competition comes from its two main rivals, McGraw-Hill Education and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which have narrowed Pearson's once-clear lead in digital products. "All of the big three have digital-savvy people at the helm now," Catalano said.

But Pearson senior executives tout their strengths. "We have more digital learners using Pearson products (over 11 million in 2012) than all of our content competitors combined," Jerome Grant, chief learning officer for Pearson Higher Education, said in an email interview. With the purchase of online program design and development, marketing and enrollment and technology company Embanet last fall, Grant said, "We are now able to truly partner with colleges and universities to provide content, technology, platform and services. We are the only learning company with these capabilities."

Hitchcock points out that helping schools keep pace with digital calls for a different approach to product development and deployment, one that is more dynamic and iterative. It also requires input from many groups, including student advisory boards. Building such "tight feedback loops" explains Pearson's recent outreach to constituents willing to share anonymized data, with the end goal of demonstrating the efficacy of teaching products and practices, Hitchcock said.

"Traditionally, a publisher sells a book," he says. "Now we're focused on the entire solution, helping the student be successful.

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RJ 2013
RJ 2013,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/23/2013 | 10:12:00 PM
re: Education Giant Pearson Adapts To Digital Learning
In our district Pearson is pushing hard for us to follow the same procurement process for digital as we do for our text books and other products. They know if they get these products into that process it wil stifle innovation and competition. A rep told me that "if they can drag it out long enough some of the start-up competition will no longer exist when the buying actually occurs." The traditional procurement process will only support the big vendors like Pearson and in the end is bad for innovation. Innovation in procurement has to occur or we'll be stuck with doing it the Pearson way forever.
User Rank: Apprentice
4/26/2013 | 2:19:17 PM
re: Education Giant Pearson Adapts To Digital Learning
I have commented on
digital learning earlier this month, and feel it is the future of learning for
student globally. DonG«÷t let the article fool you and think the Pearson is
saving the student money by not purchasing the hard copy book, but instead
paying for a pretty steep price access code to participate in the class. I donG«÷t
know what Pearson claims to be affordable about $160 textbook and then an
additional $20-50 for the access code, but in any world that is not cheap for a
book and code that will last 16 weeks. It is no wonder half their revenue has
come form digital sales. Oh and lets not also forget that next semester it will
be new code with the same price, eliminating the saving to the students that
have to purchase used text books because the new price is unaffordable.

Paul Sprague

InformationWeek Contributor
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