Apr 17, 2013 (08:04 AM EDT)
Education Giant Pearson Adapts To Digital Learning

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 8 MOOCs Transforming Education
8 MOOCs Transforming Education
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Schools aren't the only ones grappling with big questions about online learning, flipped classrooms, assessment analytics and open-source alternatives to commercial products. Traditional publishers are making changes, too.

Pearson, the world's largest education publisher, was early to embrace the digital future, according to observers. The company says more than half of its revenues last year came from digital products and service.

Pearson is composed of its global education group of Pearson International, Pearson North America, and Professional; the Financial Times Group, publisher of the Financial Times newspaper and other specialty editorial and research products; and the Penguin Group, an international consumer publisher. Penguin is being merged with Bertelsmann's Random House to create the world's biggest trade book publisher, Penguin Random House, under a joint venture.

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"We've organized internally around three A's -- achievement, access and affordability," Todd Hitchcock, senior VP of online solutions and business development at Pearson, told InformationWeek in a phone interview.

The three A's reflect Pearson's predictions about the market, based on its own research over the last three or four years, he said. Among other things, Pearson saw a changing student profile, especially in higher education, where the average age is now 38.

"The demographic changing," Hitchcock said. "[They] need flexibility … so access becomes more online and blended." Similarly, although Hitchcock isn't sure that massive open online courses (MOOCs) will transform education, they have had the effect of "shining a light on online learning, access and affordability models," he said.

Then again, a technology itself can sometimes spark change.

Take Pearson's eText platform, a database of grade-specific educational content. eText was honored as InformationWeek's "Best Emerging Technology: Enterprise Mobility" last September. eText is now being developed as an overall solution for students, Hitchcock said, adding, "It's an opportunity to rethink the whole ecosystem for the learning."

Pearson isn't alone in noting shifts in the education market. A 2012 Babson Survey of online learning revealed that over 6.7 million students were taking at least one online course during the 2011 fall term, an increase of 570,000 students over the previous year. Based on responses from over 2,800 academic leaders, the survey, "Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States," also found that online learning was critical to the long-term strategies of 69% of chief academic leaders.