For decades, the US public education system saw very little change. Students learned core reading and math skills with the support of one-size-fits-all textbooks. These books were published by a few large companies, such as Houghton Mifflin or McGraw Hill, which dominated the industry. Innovation simply meant an update from the 5th edition to the 6th edition of a book.
Founded in 1969, Curriculum Associates was a mid-sized education publisher competing in this market. The company relied on its strong customer service to build relationships with customers. During the sales cycle, a sales representative would sell a set of textbooks to a school, and the job was complete. Schools would not need to interact with the sales rep again for 3-5 years, when they sought to purchase a new set of the books.
Then, in 2010, noting the need for increased customization and personalization to improve student learning, as well as a desire to differentiate itself amongst an increasingly crowded market, Curriculum Associates rapidly began shifting its core strategy, and making a transition from print to digital. While many other industries had experienced this shift earlier, public education is notoriously known for being slow-moving and risk-averse. With the launch of its cloud-based i-Ready program, Curriculum Associates established itself as a competitive player in the quickly evolving field of education technology.
Curriculum Associates creates value by developing innovative software that ‘makes classrooms better places for teachers and students.’ This required significant upfront investments as the company transformed from a print publisher to a digital innovator. For i-Ready, software patches are regularly released, while major product updates and enhancements are pushed approximately every quarter. The updates are influenced by corporate priorities as well as user-feedback. An example of an update may include the expansion of content to additional grade levels, new reporting functions, or new assessment forms.
The user experience was thoughtfully considered to determine ideal content, features and product layout. Curriculum Associates has designed its products based on the latest theories and research in education pedagogy, alongside education policies, such as the Common Core State Standards. Efficacy data is analyzed to determine the effectiveness of the product. For teachers, easy-to-understand reports help drive actionable decision-making. While animated, cartoon-like characters interacting in real-world scenarios attract and engage students.
Curriculum Associates markets and sells licenses for i-Ready directly to school districts and state departments of education through a SaaS, software as a service, model. Subscriptions are offered for one to three year periods, with discounts available based on the volume or time period. In order to capture this value, the company needed to develop and hire new expertise in technology and software development, marketing, and sales, which came at the expense of the print products upon which the company had been built. At times, its new software offerings cannibalized the sales of its print products. Yet, this was a strategic decision that allowed for a more stable, recurring revenue stream, with subscription revenue recognized monthly.
Being a digital winner:
Education technology has disrupted the education publishing market. By entering this area before many of the large incumbents, Curriculum Associates was able to disrupt the industry, establishing itself as a digital winner. As more and more players enter the edtech field, including both mature incumbents and startups, Curriculum Associates will need to continue to create value through new product features, and capture value through marketing and leveraging network effects, in order to sustain its position in the market.