AWS Public Sector Blog

Pearson delivers “anywhere, anytime” learning opportunities for students around the world with the cloud

boy in classroom; Photo by Taylor Wilcox on Unsplash

Pearson delivers anywhere, anytime digital course material and learning opportunities for students globally using the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud.

Pearson is a multinational publishing and education company, headquartered in London, England, founded in the 1840s. Today, with over 22,000 employees and operating in 70 countries, Pearson provides educational content, digital content and media, as well as assessment services to corporations, schools, and direct to students. As a global company, Pearson turned to the cloud to deliver content globally, build agile, accessible solutions, and to power its digital transformation.

With Revel and Pearson eText (eText), Pearson provides flexible, digital learning solutions for students and instructors, including digitized textbooks with interactive, multimedia content, and assessment features. Building on AWS has helped Pearson to iterate quickly, innovate on behalf of students and educators, scale on demand, and reach learners globally.

The “next generation” textbook

eText—a digital textbook alternative—allows students to learn in ways that best suit their individual needs. With eText, students can access digital course material (whether they’re online or offline), all from their mobile phones or other devices. eText offers course material across the full curriculum, including texts from the sciences, business education, teacher education, and core learning material.

“Students aren’t always carrying their textbooks with them. With eText, we wanted to meet students where they are, even on their cell phones,” says Anne Fahlgren, Director of Product Management at Pearson. Whereas traditional textbooks contain flat images and diagrams, eText allows students to interact with digital, multimedia content, which can help students engage with complex concepts. “When you think about a biology course, for example, mitosis and dynamic cellular processes can be represented in a variety of ways. Usually, it’s just a picture in a printed textbook, but with eText, it could be a video embedded with the written content to help students engage with the lesson in another way,” says Dr. Terri Moore, Faculty Advisor and Professor at Eastern Florida State.

With students’ needs in mind, Pearson set out to build a complementary, digital note taking solution. After hearing many students feedback—they wanted more than basic notetaking and highlighting functionalities—Pearson created a robust digital notebook. “Students can customize notes like a pin board. They can sort by hashtags, chapters, and even create customized study guides based on their notes,” says Fahlgren. With eText, students can also create basic knowledge assessments like flashcards.

Improving class engagement

Revel, initially introduced in 2014 with a handful of textbook titles for students, now has hundreds of available titles on the platform spanning all subject matter. Revel also integrates assessment and knowledge checks in the course material, which is a key different from the eText solution. “Today’s students are accustomed to using their phones, and now they can read, study, and practice virtually anywhere,” Brad Parkins, Director of Global Product Marketing, notes.

Parkins says Pearson noticed that many instructors had a similar concern—students were not coming to class prepared because they did not read the assigned chapters. “Revel was designed to solve this. By allowing instructors to assign content, students will complete lessons to receive points. It results in a class that is more engaged and prepared to be active in the classroom,” says Parkins.

Revel also integrates with Amazon Alexa, and blends text with video and interactive content—all available to students in the palm of their hands via mobile devices. Students can read course material, complete practice knowledge checks, and access study tools all in one place.

For instructors, it offers visibility into how students are doing with coursework. Teachers can manage assignments and see how both individuals and the collective class is doing in real time, allowing them to adjust instruction as necessary to meet student needs.

Innovating on behalf of students and teachers with the AWS Cloud

Building on AWS, Pearson is able to scale seamlessly to meet student demands, even during high-traffic periods, such as midterm and final examination times. Beyond reliable, global delivery of content and on-demand scaling, Pearson cites agility as a top benefit of building on the cloud. “With the cloud, we have unparalleled speed to market times. This year has been eventful with COVID-19, but we can take current events and weave it into our course content, and deliver it quickly. We couldn’t do that with a print textbook,” says Heather Taylor, Revel Product Marketing Manager. Decreasing the time for revision cycles allows Pearson to give students current, relevant content rapidly to improve the learning experience.

Pearson always aims to create new solutions to serve its instructors and students better. “Now, with Revel, we have an analytics dashboard for instructors. At a moment’s notice, they can see how their students are doing with scores, performance, and time spent on task,” Taylor says. This data helps instructors tailor their lessons and easily intervene with students who are struggling. “Real-time analytics just weren’t possible before, but now instructors can really understand how their classes are doing. As a result, instructors have more involvement and connection with their students,” Taylor adds.

And, to further increase their coursework accessibility, Pearson is using Amazon Polly to scale its audio services quickly and affordably in both Revel and eText. Hiring voice talent to create audio-versions of textbooks can cost upwards of $20,000-$30,000 per title. “This is a challenge because we have to find people who are experienced voice talent and subject matter experts. That isn’t in the budget for most of our titles. Amazon Polly offers a great listening experience for students and significantly reduces our costs, and in turn allows us to keep costs low for students,” says Fahlgren.

Building on the AWS Cloud has allowed Pearson to digitally transform to meet the needs of today’s learners.

Check out the webinar, “A New Reality for Education: Lifelong Learning in Uncertain Times,” featuring Marykay Wells, chief information officer of Pearson, as part of the IMAGINE: The New World of Education Webinar Series.

Listen to the Fix This podcast to hear stories from other voices in education, including an interview with Andrew Gilfillan, Vice President of Product Management at Pearson.

Read more stories about Pearson and education stories on the AWS Public Sector Blog, including customer spotlights from American University of Bahrain, Loudoun County Public Schools, CDSM, University of Manchester, University of British Columbia, and more.

Check out more posts on resources for researchers and institutions to work remotely, how to build a chatbot for your school in less than an hour, and no cost resources from AWS Educate.