AWS Public Sector Blog

McGraw Hill delivers dynamic learning experiences with SHARPEN, powered by AWS

McGraw Hill, an Amazon Web Services (AWS) Partner, is an education technology (EdTech) and publishing company that provides educational content, software, and services for pre-K through postgraduate education to help millions of educators, learners, and professionals around the world achieve success. Over 92% of school districts in the US use McGraw Hill products, and McGraw Hill’s content is distributed in over 100 countries. Throughout its 130-year history, McGraw Hill has innovated to meet the dynamic needs of educators and learners worldwide.

According to a recently completed survey of 500 undergraduate students conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of McGraw Hill, 75% of students changed their study methods over the last couple of years due to COVID-19. Respondents said they would study more if their materials matched the style and convenience of social media apps they interact with daily. One student cited, “I’m doing a lot more self-teaching now that I’m not always guaranteed a classroom (environment) to ask questions in.”

To meet these evolving learner needs, McGraw Hill launched the SHARPEN app, available for iOS and Android users, last Fall. SHARPEN is a mobile study app that mimics the types of social media content feeds familiar to young learners to deliver digestible learning experiences with a continuous content feed, short videos, interactive study tools, and a personalized activity dashboard. To power this dynamic learning experience that meets these learners where they are, McGraw Hill uses AWS.

“The student experience has undergone tremendous upheaval in recent years,” said Justin Singh, chief transformation and strategy officer at McGraw Hill. “This research led us to realize the need for an application to support these new methods of learning, so we quickly responded with our new app, SHARPEN. Working together with AWS Growth Advisory, we quickly went from generating the first mockup of designs to rapid development, which led to our final product which you can now experience today,” said Singh.

What does the SHARPEN app do for students? 

SHARPEN blends a social media-inspired, mobile-first design with trusted content built specifically to align with popular college courses. Some key features that the SHARPEN team focused on during the design, test, and build phases include video tutoring sessions served up in bite-size format, flashcards, quizzes, study feed, insights, and accessibility for all learning types.

In collaboration with the AWS Growth Advisory Team, McGraw Hill rapidly pushed the boundaries for next generation textbook consumption and learning through iterations and testing. The AWS Growth Advisory Team helps AWS customers develop new innovative solutions and products from the first idea to production.“We are thrilled that McGraw Hill took to innovation and thinking big with our collective technical and business strategy teams. Not only did we have a great time strategically diving in with this team, but we learned a lot about student expectations and insights in and out of the classroom when they are looking to study and consume content,” said Alec Chalmers, director of EdTechs at AWS.

McGraw Hill worked closely with AWS business and development resources through the AWS Growth Advisory teams as they considered and moved forward with building SHARPEN. The SHARPEN team accelerated their roadmap with expertise from AWS’s product organization, as well as data science insights, machine learning (ML) prototyping, architecture reviews, and go-to-market planning and execution. The collaboration included feedback, onsite workshops, and co-delivery to reach the McGraw Hill team’s goals.

How does SHARPEN use AWS?

SHARPEN uses Amazon CloudFront to deliver fast and secure content to learners. The SHARPEN architecture also includes AWS WAF, a web application firewall, and Elastic Load Balancing to distribute application traffic to a fleet of targets using Amazon EC2 Auto Scaling. Other services in the architecture include Amazon ElastiCache for in-memory caching, Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) to simply scale their database, Amazon Simple Queue Service (Amazon SQS) to decouple messaging, Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) for storing static web content, plus AWS Lambda, AWS Code Pipeline, AWS CodeDeploy, and AWS Secrets Manager.

“McGraw Hill was able to effectively and rapidly use AWS services to build, deploy, and run a modern application, at scale in a matter of a few months. By doing this, they removed undifferentiated heavy lifting, and were able to focus on building a delightful experience for students instead,” said Leo Zhadanovsky, chief technologist for education at AWS.

Learn more about SHARPEN

 Simon Allen, chief executive officer (CEO) of McGraw Hill, said, “Education has transformed massively and so has McGraw Hill. We’re proud to provide this groundbreaking solution that responds to the needs of today’s college students and will help them succeed on their unique learning paths—no matter their location.”

Discover more about SHARPEN and how to get started with dynamic studying resources at no cost.

Get started with AWS for EdTechs

If you’d like to learn more about how to develop innovative new solutions with the AWS Growth Advisory Team, reach out to your AWS account team for next steps. You can contact the AWS Public Sector Team to learn how to get in touch with your AWS account team, or start a conversation about how AWS can meet your organization’s mission needs.

Are you curious about how get started with building a modern application on AWS? Learn more in one of the hands-on AWS serverless workshops. These workshops introduce the basics of building serverless applications and microservices using services like AWS Lambda, AWS Step Functions, Amazon API Gateway, Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon Kinesis, and Amazon S3. You’ll learn to build and deploy your own serverless application using these services for common use cases like web applications, analytics, and more.

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Leo Zhadanovsky

Leo Zhadanovsky

Leo Zhadanovsky, the chief technologist for education at Amazon Web Services (AWS), has spent nearly a decade sharing guidance on the best ways to leverage AWS services. As a speaker, Leo has delivered talks at conferences around the world, including re:Invent, OmniTI Surge, and PuppetConf. Behind the scenes, he helps customers build highly-available, scalable, and elastic architectures to fulfill their business needs. Leo first demonstrated his expertise in AWS as the director of systems engineering at the Democratic National Committee (DNC), where he ran the on-premise and cloud infrastructure for the DNC, in use by the Obama campaign, as well as the Democratic Party. In his free time, he enjoys cycling, traveling, and perfecting the crema on his espresso.

Erissa Renfer

Erissa Renfer

Erissa Renfer is an executive growth advisor at Amazon Web Services (AWS) serving education and government technology customers. She has spent her more than 20 year career in the tech industry, focused on new business and product/solution development to enable customer success.

Hannah Oldknow

Hannah Oldknow

Hannah Oldknow is the head of growth advisory and product innovation practice for Amazon Web Services (AWS) education and government technology. Hannah has over 15 years of driving forward thinking innovative strategies from working on Facebook Messenger going fully encrypted, to Instagram globally distributed machine learning. Her current team utilizes their collective backgrounds across industries to push the envelope for AWS customers' roadmaps.

Kathy Huffstetler

Kathy Huffstetler

Kathy Huffstetler is a senior solutions architect at Amazon Web Services (AWS) based in Orlando. She is passionate about helping customers ideate and works with customers to provide guidance on architectural solutions with best practices in the cloud. Outside work, she enjoys time with her family.