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Always Learning: How Pearson Is Changing Digital Education

Disruption has good timing. Distance learning is in need of change.

Brian Solis of Salesforce and Steve Santana of Pearson

This blog is part five in our five-part series on Resiliency in Service in which Brian Solis, Salesforce’s Global Innovation evangelist, speaks with our customers about how they’ve transformed to adapt to change since COVID-19 hit in March, 2020.

When COVID-19 sent the world into lockdown, employers and employees had to learn how to work from home, and educators and students had to learn how to teach and learn remotely, together. Even though remote working and e-learning have been around for years, their status wasn’t quite the same until now. And while online learning has always been available, it was considered complementary to the classroom learning experience. 

But now e-learning has become the only way to teach and learn, and that disruption has become a catalyst for change. Pearson North America, like its business and education customers, found itself suddenly disrupted, and from the onset of the pandemic, they focused on employees and their customers and students. They see an opportunity for employers, educators, and enablers to invest in digital-first learning to make education more accessible, engaging, and personalized for everyone.

“With thousands of businesses, universities, and colleges suddenly without their materials, we dedicated ourselves to solving the adoption challenges for our customers and getting them to quickly shift from analog to digital-first products,” said Steve Santana, chief technology officer of Pearson North America. “We gave away tens of thousands of product subscriptions to expedite their transformation.”

With thousands of businesses, universities, and colleges suddenly without their materials, we dedicated ourselves to solving the adoption challenges for our customers and getting them to quickly shift from analog to digital-first products. We gave away tens of thousands of product subscriptions to expedite their transformation.

Steve Santana, chief technology officer of Pearson North America

Disruption had good timing; we needed change

According to Salesforce research, 64% of participants revealed that they believe access to education is not improving. Fifty percent of participants believe that online learning is too expensive, and another 50% feel that it’s hard to find relevant online learning. Concurrently, 50% of people are stating that they are more interested in online learning post-pandemic.

This all comes at a time when COVID isn’t the only factor affecting employment and learning. We’re also in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0. Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, automation, and robotics are transforming industries and affecting how people and machines get work done. As a result, students and employees are concerned. They’re wondering, “Will my job or the job I’m studying for be taken by a machine or robot?”

The truth is, a big swath of today’s workforce and student body are not learning or being trained for tomorrow’s jobs. Salesforce found that 40% of parents and 44% of Millennials are considering getting another degree. For better, and not for worse, innovators are stepping up, even in times of disruption, to accelerate the following:

  1. Make premier education accessible to the masses.
  2. Help employers teach employees new skills to improve their careers.
  3. Help educators better engage and teach students in a suddenly digital-first world.
  4. Address the growing skill gap between the jobs of the future and the education and expertise of the present.

How Pearson reimagined learning for a new era

I recently had the opportunity to meet with Santana as part of the “Resiliency in Service” LinkedIn Live series I host. Pearson positions itself as, “the world’s learning company.” With more than 24,000 employees operating in 70 countries, the company combines educational content and assessment, as well as services and technology, to enable more effective teaching and personalized learning.

To be successful for customers, the organization had to take care of its own first. “It’s similar to getting on an airplane [remember those times?] and when the oxygen masks popped down, you’re supposed to put it on yourself first so that you’re conscious to help people around you,” Santana explained. “So we focused on our employees and also focused on operational efficiencies so we could be ready to help our customers and their stakeholders.”

Next, Pearson focused on its educators, giving them access to the tools, platforms, and programs, often for free, to help them find their footing as they moved from classrooms and training rooms to online. Like organizations everywhere, many education facilities were caught unprepared to abruptly go digital-first or digital-only. To accelerate the shift from analog to digital education, Pearson’s story became one of enablement. They set out to help educators everywhere in their radically hastened digital transformation adventures. 

“We focused on supporting our educators and our learners because we needed to help everyone move courses and experiences online,” Santana said. “With thousands of businesses, universities, and colleges suddenly without their materials, we dedicated ourselves to solving the adoption challenges for our customers and getting them to quickly shift from analog to digital-first products. We gave away tens of thousands of product subscriptions to expedite their transformation.”

The future of education is personal

Since not everyone was digital-first until recently, reskilling and learning have become critical. Access to relevant and approachable education has historically been elusive, but organizations like Pearson can help drive change. The aim is to use COVID-accelerated disruption to make education available to those who need it to learn and grow their skills.

Digital learning is a tremendous frontier, not only for us as a company or educators everywhere, but also as a society. It finally starts to break up legacy norms of learning.

Steve Santana

The future of education will be augmented by digital, but it’s the human side of digital engagement, teaching, and user experiences that defines its true potential.The modality in which learners are adapting is incredible. Educational experiences now have to be designed for a Zoom world, or sometimes, a Zoomed-out world. Synchronous and asynchronous learning have to be designed to be digital, analog, agile, and personal. 

Santana explained the importance of these times and how we’re moving forward differently because of COVID. “A really important point in the shift of digital learning is that it’s not just about technology, where you’re screen sharing and walking through the materials like you’re attending a corporate webinar. It’s about being asynchronous and synchronous. It’s real-time and collaborative. It’s also offline at your own pace. Advancing, personalized learning allows people to learn through different modalities.”

With industry 4.0 at large, AI, machine learning, automation, and also virtual and augmented reality can help students learn their way.  

“Digital learning is a tremendous frontier, not only for us as a company or educators everywhere, but also as a society,” Santana shared with enthusiasm. “It finally starts to break up legacy norms of learning.”

Students can now be assessed individually. Technology like Pearson’s global platforms can facilitate individual learning programs, focus on remedial activities where needed, and introduce new concepts in personalized ways – all to help students learn at their own pace and in their own way. Not only do we become smarter, but we can also close education and skill gaps critical to our future of work and balanced societal evolution.

Santana shared three areas of focus for teachers and educational institutions:

  1. Be resilient. Integrate your business and technical continuity plans and be rehearsed for future disruptions.
  2. Be asynchronous. There’s a ton to do, but we can be way more flexible if we aren’t restricted by time, proverbial boxes to think outside of, and traditional places and boundaries that defined yesterday’s normal. 
  3. Be ready for all customers, all learners, to come at you at any time – the internet enables reach, scale, and impact. You may think you’re prepared, but you don’t know what you don’t know. Lean in and keep learning yourself.

In this era of disruption, automation, and constant technological advancement, we have positive and productive opportunities to help people teach and learn like never before. As Santana says, in these times, and in the future, embrace a personal philosophy of “always learning.”

Watch Brian Solis of Salesforce and Steve Santana of Pearson speak during Resiliency in Service: The Role of Customer Experience (CX) in Learning Experiences:

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