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Thought Leaders in Online Education: Todd Hitchcock, COO of Pearson Embanet (Part 7)

Posted on Tuesday, Apr 15th 2014

Sramana Mitra: I’m going to switch gears a little bit. If you were to advise entrepreneurs who are interested in working in the domain of online education, where would you point them? Where do you see open opportunities to build businesses in?

Todd Hitchcock: There are a lot of inflection points. We know that there are a lot of pieces of the partnership that we have competency in, but there are certain pieces that we may never build a competency in if we don’t acquire a company. Therefore, we like to partner with that provider to bring them into the ecosystem. We’re very strong in our belief that we need to provide solutions but that doesn’t mean that we need to provide every single component. If there’s a partner that can bring something to bear, why not bring them in. I would love to bring them in to help me. They can own that one part of the ecosystem. That’s really our core strategy.

Data and analytics is one. For every other industry from banking to healthcare, we leverage data in many ways that are just remarkable and that we would never have thought of 10 years ago. In education, there is a tremendous amount of data and we have been talking about Big Data for many years in education but I often say there’s a lot of data but very little information. There’re a lot of reasons for that. There’s no single source of a killer app in data and education intelligence. I think that’s one tremendous opportunity.

Another area of tremendous opportunity beyond data and analytics are in adaptive learning models – looking at building technologies that provide a digital and personalized experience for students. First of all, why is this so important? In North America, it will help to increase student success rates if I can provide you with what you need exactly when you need it and avoid giving you information that you don’t need. If I can pre-assess you and get a great picture of what exactly you need going into a course or program, those tools will be important.

We have done some work on that and we’ve had some partners in that. That is extremely complex and that requires deep partnership because it’s not only the algorithms and the systems that are required to build an adaptive program that learns how you learn, it’s also being able to bring the right content together.

Understanding how to deliver content in online is extremely complex – understanding cognitive load, intrinsic, and extrinsic. It’s not only about understanding you need certain contents, but I need to know what modality you are going to learn best in. Is it video or audio? How to chunk that content? How do I design and deliver that content in a way that you will be able to interpret it? So, adaptive technology combined with mindfully designed educational content is another killer app. Those are two different types of skills and types of companies. We are interested in both of those areas. These are areas that I think we can learn a lot from outside of education and bring that to bear in a way that hasn’t been done as of yet.

Sramana Mitra: Excellent answers. It was really great talking to you.

This segment is part 7 in the series : Thought Leaders in Online Education: Todd Hitchcock, COO of Pearson Embanet
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