"The pandemic has brought in the much needed push for e-learning industry"

The origin of Pearson goes back as far as 1724, when Thomas Longman founded Longman. Pearson was actually formed in 1844 by Samuel Pearson as S Pearson and Son, a small building firm in Yorkshire in the North of England. But over a period of time, they have diversified and today they are focussed solely on education – a very different company from what the founder had envisioned.

Today, being one of the world’s leading digital learning companies with more than 22,500 employees operating in 70 countries, they provide content, assessment and digital services to learners, educational institutions, employers, governments and other partners globally. Pearson is committed to help and equip learners with the skills they need to enhance their employability prospects and to succeed in the changing world of work.

During the lockdown to unlock learning opportunities for students from their homes and support teachers/ parents to aid learners, Pearson launched multiple products. The company provided free access to some of the trained teachers to hold online classes successfully across India and conducted proctored exams for NEET aspirants.

To understand the company’s plans and their long-term strategy in the digital learning space, Adgully caught up with Ramananda SG, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, Pearson India.

Pearson has been pioneers when it came to education and learning. The COVID pandemic has disrupted businesses globally and seen a massive transition to digital. What kind of surge did you witness in online learning during these times? And for what kind of educational learning the prospects were reaching you or enrolling for a course?

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted the whole education ecosystem at large, which strikingly illustrated the potential of e-learning and digital platforms. Being an education company, we at Pearson were confronted with the challenge of delivering solutions which could help students as well as educators to continue learning and teaching from home, thus keeping the learning curve intact. Having a diversified business portfolio catering to segments such as K-12 (School Education), Higher-Ed, Test Preparation, and professional education, we engaged with all the stakeholders including teachers, educators, academicians, institutes, corporates and so on to understand their needs and provide them with the required products and services to ensure continuation of learning.

We started with training teachers to enable them to teach in an online environment and through our pan-India online teacher trainings and workshops, we were able to train over 10,000 teachers and imbibe them with the skills essential for teaching online. Furthermore, many of our products and offerings which are mostly B2B driven were customised and free access was given to the learners and parents, along with the schools to help continue their learning at home. Also, bearing in mind that the demand to innovate was at peak during this time, we introduced apps like Quikik, which is an AI-based math learning app for children and also launched our proctored test series for high stakes exams such as NEET and supported learners with world-class digitalcontent, assessment solutions, mock tests and free preparation resources for effective exam preparation at home.

Who is your potential audience that you target? Are parents key influencers in making a decision and how do you reach them?

Students (K-12, higher-ed and study abroad aspirants), teachers, schools, educational institutes and parents’ community are core to our business. Through constant engagement with teachers, educators, academicians, schools, institutes, etc., we aim to address the needs of the whole education ecosystem and create a holistic learning experience by coming up with innovative products and solutions.

Parents, of course, are a key influencer for us and we believe that it’s important to reach out to them, which is why we engage with them at several workshops, forums, focussed discussions and we look out for several new ways in which we can keep connecting with them at every level. Parents are meaningfully involved in their children’s studies and the lockdown period has only amplified that, with parents seen to have become more closely involved with their children’s education during this time. Parents have been assisting their kids to learn in fun and engaging way with digital solutions from home.

The student community across disciplines are going through several challenges when it comes to learning and pursuing their careers. How have you been helping these students to cope especially with some of the competitive exams like JEE mains/ NEET, etc.?

Lockdown led to the postponement of competitive exams, including examinations for IIT JEE and NEET, which are now scheduled on September 27, 2020. During this gap, many students shifted to digital platforms for preparation, as the Government encouraged students to adequately prepare through mock tests. Hence, Pearson India extended support to NEET students and institutes by launching the first ever All India Online Remote Proctored Test called MyInsights NEET Online Test Series. The all India Online Remote Proctored Test was conducted on 13th June with Exam like Ranks for the students. The test series offers 3 All India non-proctored tests on NEET syllabus, 1 Full-length test on Grade XI syllabus and NEET 2019 previous year paper with solution. It aid learners with online proctored and non-proctored tests for effective preparation during this time.

In addition to this, we announced support for IIT-JEE students and institutes in the form of free access to its MyInsights Online Mock Test Series to ensure seamless preparation time, resources and personalised digital assessment. Catering to Foundation, JEE (Main & Advanced) and NEET, Pearson MyInsights is the pioneer digital assessment tool for the complete 360-degree competitive exam preparation landscape, which provides learners with real time exam experience, helping them to become top rankers through diagnostic test, exam relevant practice, test series and insightful reports for effective exam preparation. The program includes 10 JEE Main mock tests on latest pattern, 10 years JEE Main papers, scores as per the new marking scheme, instant reports with in-depth analysis, Institute dashboard to get student individual level reports and much more.

Since offline education is not happening, there are many universities and education institutions collaborating with online educational companies. Has Pearson explored anything in that direction and collaborated with some of the institutions to help these universities to impart online education with their students?

To impart online education and upskill learners from the safety of their homes during the pandemic, Pearson has a whole bunch of offerings for short courses, that is, Pearson Professional programmes, and we launched various courses in collaboration with Harvard University, London Business School, Columbia University, IIMB and MIT. Professional short-term online courses such as Entrepreneurship, Business Management, Data Science, Supply Chain Management, Cybersecurity & Ethical Hacking, Fintech Navigator, Big Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence were designed to help students/ professionals update their skills and utilise their time effectively.

In addition to that, Pearson also has BTEC qualifications, wherein we work with trainers and institutes to help students gain international qualifications in various disciplines. Areas like Art, Design, Healthcare, Architecture, Media, etc., are some of the few examples of fields where students can get enrolled for the course and get qualified & certified from reputed international universities.

The lockdown relaxation will take some time. Online education will be the next best alternative for learning something new and honing your other educational skills. Is Pearson planning any marketing campaign to woo students to enrol?

Yes, online education is definitely going to become more mainstream going forward and our recently launched Pearson Global Learner Survey has also revealed leaners’ growing preference towards virtual and digital ways of learning in the present times. There is also a focus on gaining new skills, which have become critical in the current environment and students and working professionals across the world are looking towards a more practical kind of learning experience through vocational courses, trainings, etc. As a leading learning company, we are trying to bridge these needs and demands of our learners by providing them with innovative solutions and services which provides them with a hands-on practical learning experience. To do this, we have a whole team of our experts who are working round the clock to provide such products and platforms for the learners and naturally, we also undertake several specific product marketing campaigns for each of them.

Content is King and key differentiator when it comes to online education. How have you been updating and adding value to your content for all your courses to provide relevant and quality education? What has been your pricing strategy for the India market?

At Pearson, we have always strived to add value to the learning material by creating quality content, collaborating with renowned authors and providing high quality learning resources for the students. Through our global expertise, we are always trying to bring in the global perspective which provides students with the much-needed international exposure and a learning experience which is new age, relevant, job-oriented and futuristic. Furthermore, keeping in mind the accessibility and affordability of these resources for the learners in our country, we employ the best of editors, digital content creators, and developers to create International quality books at the lowest possible prices. Most of our products, services, courses are generally B2B and we work together with schools, higher-ed institutes and other academic institutions to see how we can meet the needs & demands of learners and make our learning resources easily & readily available for them through offline channels as well as e-commerce platforms.

Are you planning to bring in any innovation in your technology and increasing your basket of course offerings by introducing new courses for students to strengthen their knowledge? If so, what are those areas of courses that you are planning?

In terms of innovation and technology, the pandemic and its ensuing norms of physical distancing brought in the much needed push for the e-learning industry and one area which gained a lot of traction was the remote proctoring space, which is a mechanism that allows students to take tests from home and ensure their authenticity by eliminating the chances of cheating or other malpractices. Identifying this as a critical need for students and educators during this time and a potential trend for the future, we launched our first ever All India remote proctored test for NEET Examinationon 13th June with Exam like Ranks for the students. Students from over 100+ institutes across the country took the test which helped them evaluate their preparation, identify strengths, scope of improvement and prepare effectively.

Additionally, to empower students with hands-on and job relevant skills, we also offer International qualifications known as BTEC in colleges and schools’ learners develop the required knowledge, skills and confidence to progress onto further education or employment. Easy-to-access modular BTEC qualifications not only facilitate students with practical training, but open new doors into rewarding careers in STEM, Health, Entrepreneurship, Sport, Business, IT, Media, Art & Design, Creatives and much more to develop skills, which employers need. For instance, we have partnered with Liverpool FC to offer international sports industry qualifications designed to provide pathways to careers in sport, fitness and physical activity for young people and adults.

Furthermore, we are focussing on creating more innovative and technology led solutions for exam preparation and we also have the Pearson Test of English (PTE), which is an AI-based, computerised English language exam for students to prove their English language proficiency for going abroad.


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