This quote  seems outrageous now, but our children’s schooling will also look unfathomably different from ours. Digitization has changed the way we work and it will also change the way students learn.
Pearson finds itself at the center of the transition from textbooks to digital learning tools. Digitization presents new opportunities that Pearson, the world’s largest educational content company, is well-positioned to take. But it hasn’t been all good news – last year, Pearson’s stock dropped substantially due in part to slowing textbook sales. Pearson is addressing digitization head on; its top 2016 strategic growth priority is “digital & services.”
Products and Services
Selling textbooks is no longer a viable business model – school districts and universities are shopping for digital learning tools that integrate content and interactive assessments. Pearson shifted to producing these products and distributing them through their own channels and through other companies’ platforms.
Personalized learning is “tailoring learning for each student’s strengths, needs and interests…to provide flexibility and supports to ensure mastery…” Personalized learning doesn’t necessarily require technology, but computers make it significantly easier for teachers to track student learning and find the right content for individual students. Pearson has made strides into personalized learning with products like Revel, an interactive platform for college students, and K-12 personalized learning curricula. Pearson also announced a partnership with IBM to use the Watson technology to build a digital tutor for college students.
Assessment is a major revenue generator for Pearson and the fact that they have invested heavily in assessment has helped them weather declining textbook sales.  Many of us will recall going to take the GMAT at a Pearson VUE test center. In addition to test centers, Pearson creates and scores assessment for K-12 students, college students, and professionals.
As schools collect more and more data through digital tools, Pearson is ramping up service offerings to help schools find insight in the data.
The most important result of digitization in the education space is the democratization of content. The internet has led to a proliferation of free quality educational content on the internet. Teachers can now access videos on Khan Academy, lesson plans on LearnZillion, and other teachers’ content through TeachersPayTeachers. When publisher material doesn’t work, teachers go elsewhere to find quality content. Currently, textbook procurement isn’t in the hands of teachers, but content democratization could be a long-term threat to Pearson in two ways: 1) teacher feedback will eventually make its way up to the people in charge of procurement and demand for subpar products will dry up. 2) Some education leaders, like the Gates Foundation, are pushing to put purchasing decision in teachers’ hands. If this happens, Pearson will have to compete directly with new entrants who may not have relationships with procurement officers but can market directly to teachers.
Testing is also impacted by digitization. On one hand, test givers are getting smarter – companies like Coursera are pioneering biometrics and other tech-enabled methods to detect cheating. ProctorU combines low tech and high tech to offer virtual proctors who monitor students via webcam as they take tests online. But the same technology that enables controls also empowers cheaters; we’ve seen the proliferation of new cheating methods alongside new educational models. ,
Pearson launched major efforts to adapt its business and operating models. Looking forward, they should:
- Adapt test center offerings – With assessment as a core business, Pearson needs to be on the leading edge of testing technology. It’s possible that within the next decade, students will no longer need to go to test centers. Pearson should be actively developing or purchasing technology that makes it possible to take tests remotely while guaranteeing test integrity.
- Leverage scale to maintain competitive position – Free online educational content will continue to come online; Pearson can use this content to their advantage. With the IBM Watson partnership, Pearson can leverage their content AND free content to provide the best possible educational material to each individual learner. For this to work, Pearson needs to move quickly to develop a tool that will effectively recommend the best of a broad pool of content to students.
- Focus on efficacy to sell services and build evidence base for products – Since there is now more content available, there is an increased need to rank content by efficacy. Pearson should continue to develop rigorous but easy-to-implement analytical capabilities to test its products and demonstrate their effectiveness. This will both sell products and build additional revenue opportunities in providing data analysis services to schools. (800 words)