Textbook Publisher Pearson Bets Big on Online Learning
Andy Bird joined education-resource company Pearson PLC as chief executive officer at a time when education was undergoing an upheaval—the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic.
With students around the world suddenly learning from home, the company’s online business saw big growth: Enrollment at Pearson’s online K-12 schooling offering, Connections Academy, grew by 40%, says Mr. Bird, the former chairman of Walt Disney International.
Now that many students are returning to their classrooms, Mr. Bird thinks that growth rate will likely slow. Even so, the CEO is betting that some of the popularity online learning gained during the pandemic is here to stay—and Pearson is betting big on virtual offerings.
The London-based company, which sells a range of products, from reskilling tools to standardized testing, is launching a mobile app for college students called Pearson+ that will offer audio content, note-taking and other study tools. This offering, the company says, will help Pearson “regain a portion of the textbook sales now lost to the secondary market” and give students learning experiences in a form they are used to. And then, Mr. Bird hopes, those students will return to Pearson down the road for more virtual training during their careers.
The online efforts come during a slump for Pearson. Despite the growth in online learning, the company’s sales for 2020 declined 12% to £3.4 billion ($4.7 billion) from a year earlier—the latest in a string of annual drops. Pearson shares closed Friday at about $12—up 61% over the past year, but down 1.4% over the past five years, according to Dow Jones Market Data.