Edtech Business

Pearson CEO Shares His Road Ahead

By Betsy Corcoran     Nov 13, 2013

Pearson CEO Shares His Road Ahead

Pearson, the world's largest education company, its CEO JohnFallon suggests, is still more or less a teenager.

That means Fallon's job is to apply the discipline it needsto grow more. What's more, he's got just the tools to do it. (News update): Pearson published its "efficacy framework" on Friday. Here's a link to the document.

That news came during a wide-ranging conversation thatFallon led with a team of EdSurge writers during a visit last week to SanFrancisco.

Pearson had the equivalent of an exuberant childhood,beginning in the late 1990s when it gobbled up many education businesses. Now"we're shifting from inputs to the educational process to how we can helpdeliver results," Fallon said, choosing the careful language of anexecutive in the spotlight.

Translation: under Fallon, whose father taught math, Pearsonwants to measure gains in learning not just financial returns. Led by chiefeducation advisor, Sir Michael Barber, Pearson has created an "efficacyframework"--a set of tools for assessing if the conditions are inplace for an education program to deliver its promised learning outcomes, whichit plans to share publically.

The efficacy framework has been at least two years' in themaking. Pearson has already used it internally to review almost 100 Pearsonprograms and since January 2013 is requiring the efficacy review for any productof more than $3 million or any proposed acquisition. Elements of the framework include analyzing the data sets produced by the activity, interactions with stakeholders and whether there are clearly defined outcomes and a path to achieve those outcomes. "We're not just looking at a research-basedapproach, but thinking in a more systematic approach."

"We're using the word 'efficacy,' deliberately"Fallon said. "It's a horrible word but a beautiful idea." Just asdoctors seek specific outcomes when they treat patients, so, too, should edtechseek a specific outcome.

Fallon pointed out that Pearson has recently stopped publishingtextbooks in 10 countries "because we didn't think we could addvalue." He pointed to that shift as one consequence of applying the principlesbehind the efficacy framework. (Fallon did agree, however, that old-fashioned business principles might have also played a role in that particular decision.) Hecautioned, not to expect quick fixes: "We're on a path--it willbe five years or more. But we are committed to being open about our journey."

Use of the efficacy framework hasn't yet cancelled aproject, Fallon said. "Butit's changing product development," he added, in part by increasing theimportance of data analytics in product. And Pearson has opted out of investment opportunities because they didn't measure up when assessed according to the framework. 

As a signal of that openness, he added, Pearson aims topublish the details of its efficiacy framework, as well as being more open with code and APIs. "What we hope is theefficacy framework is owned and shared widely," Fallon said. "Andthat [other practitioners] will shape it as we go."

The company is also taking more conventional steps: It's inthe midst of what Fallon described as "the most significant restructuringin a decade or more. "We will have fewer people doing publishing--butpublishing will still be a significant activity for us." He adds: "Ifyou think we have a degree of schizophrenia because of the divide betweendigital and print, well, it is in response to our customers."

Pearson is knitting itself together, losing the distinctbands of the companies that it has acquired over the years, Fallon said.

And with that growing maturity, that desire to craft acoherent and focused company from the mass of acquisitions, comes a bigger opportunity, Fallon suggested.

"If you are primarily atextbook company, then you win or lose that market. If you think 'How do wehelp achieve learning outcomes?'" potentially at any time during astudent's life, then the opportunity is broader.

"That's a big culture shift for us as a company," Fallon said. "It won't happen overnight. But if we are to prosper and grow, then we have to enable others to prosper and grow, too."

An excerpt from the efficacy framework:

Pearson's efficacy framework asks that reviewers assess a product or strategy along a dozen points:

OUTCOMES:

  • Intended outcomes
  • Overall Design
  • Value for money

EVIDENCE:

  • Comprehensiveness of evidence
  • Quality of evidence
  • Application of evidence

PLANNING & IMPLEMENTATION:

  • Action plan
  • Governance
  • Monitoring and reporting

CAPACITY TO DELIVER:

  • Internal capacity and culture
  • User capacity and culture
  • Stakeholder relationships

Editor's note: An early version of the story said that the efficacy framework has not affected Pearson's investment strategy; in fact, Pearson has opted out of potential investments that didn't meet the framework's criteria.

Edtech Business

Pearson CEO Shares His Road Ahead

By Betsy Corcoran     Nov 13, 2013

Pearson CEO Shares His Road Ahead

Pearson, the world's largest education company, its CEO JohnFallon suggests, is still more or less a teenager.

That means Fallon's job is to apply the discipline it needsto grow more. What's more, he's got just the tools to do it. (News update): Pearson published its "efficacy framework" on Friday. Here's a link to the document.

That news came during a wide-ranging conversation thatFallon led with a team of EdSurge writers during a visit last week to SanFrancisco.

Pearson had the equivalent of an exuberant childhood,beginning in the late 1990s when it gobbled up many education businesses. Now"we're shifting from inputs to the educational process to how we can helpdeliver results," Fallon said, choosing the careful language of anexecutive in the spotlight.

Translation: under Fallon, whose father taught math, Pearsonwants to measure gains in learning not just financial returns. Led by chiefeducation advisor, Sir Michael Barber, Pearson has created an "efficacyframework"--a set of tools for assessing if the conditions are inplace for an education program to deliver its promised learning outcomes, whichit plans to share publically.

The efficacy framework has been at least two years' in themaking. Pearson has already used it internally to review almost 100 Pearsonprograms and since January 2013 is requiring the efficacy review for any productof more than $3 million or any proposed acquisition. Elements of the framework include analyzing the data sets produced by the activity, interactions with stakeholders and whether there are clearly defined outcomes and a path to achieve those outcomes. "We're not just looking at a research-basedapproach, but thinking in a more systematic approach."

"We're using the word 'efficacy,' deliberately"Fallon said. "It's a horrible word but a beautiful idea." Just asdoctors seek specific outcomes when they treat patients, so, too, should edtechseek a specific outcome.

Fallon pointed out that Pearson has recently stopped publishingtextbooks in 10 countries "because we didn't think we could addvalue." He pointed to that shift as one consequence of applying the principlesbehind the efficacy framework. (Fallon did agree, however, that old-fashioned business principles might have also played a role in that particular decision.) Hecautioned, not to expect quick fixes: "We're on a path--it willbe five years or more. But we are committed to being open about our journey."

Use of the efficacy framework hasn't yet cancelled aproject, Fallon said. "Butit's changing product development," he added, in part by increasing theimportance of data analytics in product. And Pearson has opted out of investment opportunities because they didn't measure up when assessed according to the framework. 

As a signal of that openness, he added, Pearson aims topublish the details of its efficiacy framework, as well as being more open with code and APIs. "What we hope is theefficacy framework is owned and shared widely," Fallon said. "Andthat [other practitioners] will shape it as we go."

The company is also taking more conventional steps: It's inthe midst of what Fallon described as "the most significant restructuringin a decade or more. "We will have fewer people doing publishing--butpublishing will still be a significant activity for us." He adds: "Ifyou think we have a degree of schizophrenia because of the divide betweendigital and print, well, it is in response to our customers."

Pearson is knitting itself together, losing the distinctbands of the companies that it has acquired over the years, Fallon said.

And with that growing maturity, that desire to craft acoherent and focused company from the mass of acquisitions, comes a bigger opportunity, Fallon suggested.

"If you are primarily atextbook company, then you win or lose that market. If you think 'How do wehelp achieve learning outcomes?'" potentially at any time during astudent's life, then the opportunity is broader.

"That's a big culture shift for us as a company," Fallon said. "It won't happen overnight. But if we are to prosper and grow, then we have to enable others to prosper and grow, too."

An excerpt from the efficacy framework:

Pearson's efficacy framework asks that reviewers assess a product or strategy along a dozen points:

OUTCOMES:

  • Intended outcomes
  • Overall Design
  • Value for money

EVIDENCE:

  • Comprehensiveness of evidence
  • Quality of evidence
  • Application of evidence

PLANNING & IMPLEMENTATION:

  • Action plan
  • Governance
  • Monitoring and reporting

CAPACITY TO DELIVER:

  • Internal capacity and culture
  • User capacity and culture
  • Stakeholder relationships

Editor's note: An early version of the story said that the efficacy framework has not affected Pearson's investment strategy; in fact, Pearson has opted out of potential investments that didn't meet the framework's criteria.

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