How McGraw Hill’s Innovation is Transforming the Way Students Learn

A conversation with McGraw Hill Chief Transformation and Strategy Officer, Justin Singh

For more than 130 years, leading global education company McGraw Hill has been creating trusted educational content, software, and services for learners across the globe. In this conversation, Justin Singh, who leads McGraw Hill’s transformation activities and corporate strategy, reveals how the organization has been on a digital transformation journey that is changing how they serve educators and learners globally.

Get a behind-the-scenes view of how McGraw Hill’s multi-year innovation journey helped them grow their digital billings by 20% in their 2023 fiscal year, serve today's college students with their application, Sharpen, and positions them to boldly respond to their customers’ future needs.

Immediately after launching Sharpen, we felt the business impact straight away. All of a sudden, we were developing a much closer relationship with our end consumer, our students."

Q&A: Creating a successful transformation journey

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Q: What were some of the challenges and market conditions that sparked McGraw Hill’s development of Sharpen and continued innovation efforts?

Justin Singh: Over the past few years, students have changed the way they study — adapting to a hybrid learning model. We all got used to consuming content in very different ways than what we had been in the past. For example, when searching for solutions to a problem, we typically go to our mobile phones and try to learn from different places in quick bite-sized ways.

We saw this almost universal pain point across the world in different learning segments in the market. And we wanted to react and respond to changing student needs.

Q: How did McGraw Hill leverage technology to address learners’ pain points?

Justin Singh: We set out to provide learning content in a way that students want and are demanding so they can connect with the material and learn in a way that fits into their lives. McGraw Hill wanted to provide and unlock our vast treasure trove of content. That's what we have done in a product called Sharpen.

Sharpen provides curated content and bite-sized learning in a completely different way through short videos and a gamified experience. This ground-breaking mobile app helps students understand baseline information in a source that is credible, and where they have instant access to thousands of videos, and thousands of guided questions and materials. And it's not just students that are benefiting from this, it's teachers in higher education as well.

Q: What was your approach to innovation and what did your partnership with AWS look like?

Justin Singh: Through constant communication with our customers and students, we recognized a seismic shift in education. And so we set out on an innovation journey. We took really a different approach to create a product that has never been created in the market. And so the way that we undertook that was really working backwards from our customers’ pain points.

We knew that if we wanted to make something completely different, we also needed to think about our processes and our ways of working. We reached out to AWS as we were starting the iterative journey very early on. And our strategic partnership helped us develop and implement new processes to test out concepts without depleting a lot of resources. And were able to test concepts with students to ensure that they loved what we were about to design.

AWS was also able to help us with our overall architecture. That's really important because we are a large company and we care very deeply about student data. Security, stability and performance were absolutely critical for us right from the get go. We were able to work with the AWS team to perform an architect review and to utilize our existing AWS services to make sure we knew that we had security, that it was stable, and it was going to provide the experience that our customers expect from us.

Q: How were you able to accelerate your innovation journey and launch Sharpen so quickly?

Justin Singh: Once we received feedback from our students, we knew we had to act fast and deliver a high-quality product as soon as we could. Within six months of developing our initial minimal viable product, we were able to launch in the market. That is, building a product across multiple platforms, creating thousands of short videos, thousands of questions, and guided chapter summaries — all in a way that our students expected.

Justin Singh, Chief Transformation and Strategy Officer, McGraw Hill

As Chief Transformation and Strategy Officer for McGraw Hill, Justin Singh drives their digital transformation agenda, focusing on positioning McGraw Hill to serve the needs of students, instructors and education institutions of today and the future. Justin leads corporate strategy, transformation, business development and imperative growth programs across the company. He works to set McGraw Hill's strategic direction, unlock efficiencies, and drive long-term business transformation projects. Furthermore, Justin oversees McGraw Hill's inorganic and digital innovation portfolio.

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