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Improving student outcomes: Pearson CTO’s guide to digital transformation

Digital transformation Digital transformation
Photo credit:

Alan Levine

Pearson, the world’s largest education provider, wants to help create more personalized learning experiences.

Until recently, Pearson was made up of a number of education and publishing businesses it had acquired over the years.

This gave great breadth and reach to the company, encompassing thousands of products ranging from Penguin Books to OpenClass. The caveat came after recognizing that by inheriting thousands of websites, domains and social media accounts, it was stuck with the technical debt of each separate entity.

The result was siloed businesses with very little connection between one another, until the company wide decision was made that it had to engage in change. After a group shift toward common platforms that include e-commerce and marketing technologies, a great opportunity was presented to the 170-year-old company. One that had the potential to beckon a clearer overall branding strategy grouped around fewer domains.

Moving toward this ultimate goal has required profound digital transformation. Pearson’s Chief Technical and Operations Officer, Albert Hitchcock has led it, and he talked Hot Topics through some of the changes, explaining how the digital identity of students would ultimately be used to help the business close the book on a lack of unification once and for all.

How does Pearson plan on providing educational experiences for more students?

At Pearson, we are focused on how we can create omni-channel, personalized learning at scale.

For us, the answer is to create a single technology platform for the entire company to replace our multitude of duplicated technologies with a single, global platform that allows us to scale our best learning techniques to different learner groups, and markets, whilst engineering our products and services to be available on any device.

Through reduced cost in the plumbing and our greater ability to scale – we can ultimately reduce the cost of learning and ensure millions more people have access to high quality education.

How is digital transformation altering the way Pearson engages with customers?

For Pearson, digital transformation will help us to do two things.

The first will see the creation of a global foundation for our current and future digital learning products and services. We need to create a really fantastic, consumer-grade user experience that matches the companies used by our target demographic each day. Google, Netflix, Facebook and Instagram are world-leaders because of the accessibility they provide on any device their users wish to engage with them on. This coupled with their user-experience design being superb and incredibly reliable, all contribute to their success.

We are pushing for the same exceptionally high standards, and have begun putting in place the common technology platforms and assets – content management, data and analytics, hosting, CRM, identity management – that will enable this fundamental shift over the next few years. This approach is not revolutionary but the improvements in quality, reliability and consistency mean we can reduce learning time lost through lack of reliability, and create a ‘sticky’ experience that is delightful for customers and learners of all ages.

Of course a great UX will only get us so far. We continue to be the world’s leading learning company because we offer great content, assessment and wider education services. It is our on-going digital transformation that will revolutionize how we shape learning over the next five years.

And while textbooks aren’t going away any time soon, we are seeing rapid advances in the field of adaptive and personalized learning, so we are focusing on creating tools that adapt to the specific learning needs of each student, and assessment analytics that provide teachers with a detailed understanding of their pupils’ strengths and areas of greatest need. Our goal is not simply to create interactive learning experiences but to demonstrate the efficacy of our content and improve learning outcomes too.

Again, the ability to analyze each step of the learning process and to tag, reuse and adapt delivery of our content, will rely on the common technology platforms we’re putting in place now – plus they will allow us to scale the great work we do from one part of the world to another with far greater ease than today.

Ultimately, digital technology is not a panacea in itself. Its use must always be underpinned by quality teaching.

How does Pearson create a single view of the student as they move through the student lifecycle?

Again, our platform strategy will underpin our ability to create a single learner identity.

We are embedding a single, robust identity and access management platform that will plug into our learning products services.

Not only will this significantly simplify and speed up access to learning tools, it also allows us to analyze the learning progress of each student and enrich and improve pedagogy over time, helping us to create digital learning and analytics tools that adapt to each person’s unique learning needs and style. It is in the early stages right now, but we see huge potential in what a single learner identity can help us learn about the process of learning itself.

How important is it for Pearson to ensure the privacy of student data?

We believe that careful and appropriate use and analysis of data offers a real opportunity to improve learning outcomes everywhere and increase the positive impact that education has on people’s lives.

Pearson’s role is as a steward rather than an owner of student data, and therefore we are governed by and adhere to the terms and conditions of our contracts with states, institutions and learners themselves.

Within the bounds set out by these arrangements, we are committed to using data to improve the quality and efficacy of our services for learners.