Pearson measures up for a future focused on hi-tech learning

'Financial Times' owner looks to make digital and education 70 per cent of sales by 2015
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The education group Pearson will today give more clues to its future in tablets, not textbooks, as it sets out a strategy to let schools and students more closely measure its performance – and theirs.

John Fallon, the chief executive of the Financial Times owner, is introducing an "efficacy framework", which by 2018 will report the effectiveness of its biggest courses and learning aids with the same transparency as it files financial accounts.

"It will vary business by business, product by product, country to country but for everyone there will need to be an externally verifiable measure," Mr Fallon said. At the same time, the company will give up investing in classroom tools where it cannot closely measure the outcomes.

The move doesn't mean the death knell for classroom textbooks, but there will be far fewer of them from the company, which has already hived off Penguin into a joint venture with Random House. Mr Fallon is going on a recruitment drive for software engineers, not editors, as he aims to push digital and education services to 70 per cent of group sales by 2015, up from around half today.

"What makes this much more doable now than it has ever been before is the application of technology has the capacity to transform the productivity of education around the world," he said.

Mr Fallon has introduced a raft of changes since January when he succeeded Dame Marjorie Scardino, the FTSE 100's first female boss, as chief executive. She chose an education focus for the conglomerate, whose assets included stakes in the satellite giant BSkyB and Madame Tussauds.

Now Pearson runs universities in South Africa, language schools in China and a "school in a box" system that is sold in Brazil. Education spending is second only to healthcare spending in many markets. It accounts for 13 per cent of disposable income in China. Mr Fallon's overhaul extends to staff pay, where there will be targets linked to student recruitment, success levels and career advancement.

Instead of publishing a textbook to fit a new curriculum every five years, going digital means Pearson can update its materials continually.

"As they work increasingly online, you can provide tools for the teacher and collect data all the time so you can improve and inform learning as you go. In the same way, we can use that data to improve our products as we go," Mr Fallon added.

Pearson has several million people learning English at any one time. Using essays or the results of spoken exercises, it believes it can track and even forecast performance.

"We can predict after a month of study with a high degree of accuracy which students are most likely to drop out or fail to achieve their objectives. That is incredibly powerful because you can intervene earlier to make them more likely to be successful."