There is nothing more certain in the information industry than that, once past a certain point, the big only get bigger. Thus I see no logical end to the steady growth of Pearson, over the past decade, as the leading force in education systems and services. Indeed. I predict another decade of such growth, driving national education champions to despair and frustrating would-be competitors who lack the global outreach. They now have the size to balance slower running developed world markets against fast-flowing BRICs educational economies. While their competitors want to play them on a pitch named Textbooks or Blended Learning, they have the scope to introduce just the right amount of technology, curriculum control and assessment into the mix to satisfy a Brazilian state, an American city school board or a consortium of vocational training panels. Their custom business will build over time. And so will their approach to individualized learning.

In short, over the next decade they will become recognized for what they now are: the behemoth of education with every growth option at their disposal. As a company that early recognized that the enterprise systems of schools were one of the keys to digital education they can be systems and solution suppliers of turnkey environments with the content in place. They can get to grips with the assessment engines of the world, using their experience of owning the major US solution supplier as well as a major UK examination board to drive national systems globally. While we have been saying for 20 years that education is different because of national and cultural distinctions, they have got on with identifying the things that education has in common – from sorting out timetabling, communicating with parents, marking exams and providing administrators with performance reporting – and have made a business of this alongside schoolbook supply. Does any other player in their competitive sector have a strategic alliance with Oracle?

Pearson has always been able to change. A nineteenth century builders merchant from Yorkshire, UK, became, in the hands of Weedon Pearson, a successful oil wildcatter in Venezuela and finally the collector of great tradeable brands in mid-twentieth century Britain. Some of those brands remain in terms of Penguin and the Financial Times, but as we saw with IDC, having a few brands around to toss into the investment fire is a great way of fueling the next stages of growth, just as the last realization from the last sale is now lighting acquisition fires in China, Brazil and India. So we should be asking what next at this point. And we should be interested in the parts of the education scene where Pearson currently has little scale or penetration.

I once had the enjoyable consultancy task of introducing a major hardware player to “the largest educational publisher in the world”. Dreams of strategic alliance were in the air. My hardware client was frankly disappointed: “we get more revenue from printer cartridges sold to education than they do from textbooks”. Now the roles are reversed. My hardware friends are buying search software to stay alive and Pearson are powering on, following a strategy which will undoubtedly see them emerge as a major owner of schools and universities in a number of countries, the owner of distance learning institutions with global outreach (including degree awarding and exam setting bodies in countries like the UK), a partner of governments in delivering national solutions and a leadership role in the flight from content into an individualized learning environment. And they are the only player in the sector big enough to do the whole education value chain.

They have invested and played around experimentally in some sectors for years, however, without coming up with a real strategy. Learning management is one. Working with Blackboard was one phase, buying Fronter was another. Yet their latest announcement, last week, that they will now enter a partnership with Google to develop OpenClass as a free generic LMS available globally on the Web is something else again. Here is a well-tenanted marketplace, with Blackboard and open source Moodle occupying some 80 per cent between them. Pearson seemingly have no real axe to grind here – except pure disruption (and they have teamed up with the arch-disruptor to do that). At the moment huge amounts of Pearson content must sit on Moodle or Blackboard installations. But I suspect that Pearson think this is a temporary world, that the future of learning management may have mobile and Cloud attached to them, and that they need to be somewhere fairly unique, where even larger competitors like Cengage could not follow. OpenClass could be a place like that.

Finally, as Pearson puts further distance between itself and its rivals, it is interesting to see how it now feels that it is important to build viewpoints and concensus in education as well as develop systems and solutions. The work of the Pearson Foundation was highlighted recently in Media Taylor ( I am not sure that I take such a sinister view as this blogger, but, especially in countries like India, it will be important to prepare the ground and widen the options. Major players like Pearson have an interest in this – but also a duty of care. Since there are such plentiful national educational interests that Pearson will not face competition issues in most of its markets for some years. In the meanwhile informing and educating educational buyers could be a critical part of that.


Name (required)

Email (required)


Speak your mind


1 Comment so far

  1. P U B L I S H I N G » Blog Archive » Learning, management and leadership on October 20, 2011 08:20

    […] more: […]