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UK a smart bet for Pearson as schools look to digital future


Last month the global education group Pearson issued a fifth profits warning in four years intensifying investors’ focus on the group’s North American Higher Education business, and raising further questions over whether the publisher’s big bet on a digital future for learning will ever pay off. In the UK, that picture was more positive, with Pearson saying its publishing operations performed in line with expectations. In the UK, Pearson had estimated sales of £420m in 2015, through brands such as Pearson Edexcel, Bug Club, Heinemann and Pearson College, making up roughly half of the group’s “core” division, which also includes its Italian, German, and Australian businesses. Its 2016 numbers are not yet available, but through UK bookshops (as tracked by Nielsen BookScan) it had sales worth £24.3m, down 5.8% in a market that grew by 3%. The historic strength of Pearson’s UK schools business means that it is perhaps less exposed to the vagaries of the digital transition, though still keen to take advantage of the shifts. Pearson told The Bookseller that it had seen strong growth in the number of subscribers to its digital services at both primary and secondary level, such as its ActiveLearn Digital Service. “Pearson is leading the way in transitioning the UK classroom to digital resources,” says UK-based Jill Duffy, senior vice-president, schools, Pearson. “We have invested in this area in a significant way, ahead of our competitors, and have developed robust, scalable and secure platforms to deliver effective

Students blend digital and analogue methods at this year’s BETT Show

teaching and learning programmes that improve learning outcomes in the classroom.” Duffy adds: “In most classrooms we are seeing a blended approach, with teachers using a mix of print and digital tools, tailored to the needs of their pupils.” In the US, Pearson’s problems are less about digital adoption rates, and more about students choosing cheaper materials—usually second- hand textbooks, bought through sites such as Amazon-owned, or e-book versions. In the UK, it is the speed of take-up that is the factor, at all levels of

the education business. “There is a really big difference between the speed of adoption in secondary [schools] and in Higher Education in the UK,” says George Burgess, founder and c.e.o. of revision app Gojimo and co-founder of EdTech Exchange. “In UK schools we are seeing very few digital textbooks. What we do see gaining a reasonable amount of traction are platforms that include elements of them. Hodder’s Dynamic Learning does this reasonably well. It includes text from its core books, combined with extra resources and

assessment, so there is a lot of value added on top. Unfortunately, few of these products seem to be must- have purchases for schools.” On the most basic level, digital transition in the classroom is about turning printed textbooks into “books behind glass”; digital textbooks that are little more than a traditional book replicated on a tablet. On another level, it is about adding “bells and whistles”, such as PowerPoint, quizzes and other resources, to increase its value to schools, alongside a move to a subscription model. Beyond this,

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