AWS Government, Education, & Nonprofits Blog

AWS helps Cengage engage students with high-quality learning content

Video is everywhere – from TV sets to mobile displays, digital billboards, and even classrooms. With consumers often glued to their digital devices, video has quickly become a preferred instructional tool for teachers and learning aid for students. Recognizing this trend, education and technology company Cengage incorporates video into almost all of its instructional and research materials, which are tapped by teachers and students in classrooms, as well as K12, public, and academic libraries across the world. Cengage’s Library and Research business unit, Gale, takes a similar approach with its educational materials.

For both companies, video quality is key to delivering a great customer experience. They selected cloud services from AWS to transcode an expanding content library without compromising the viewer experience.

“Scouring YouTube for the latest viral cat video is second nature to modern students, and having grown up with HD, 4K/Ultra, and HDR displays, they expect a certain level of video quality across experiences, whether watching a show or reviewing coursework,” shared Bill Binkiewicz, Vice President, Software Engineering, Gale. “If video quality is lacking, students lose interest, so using HD as the baseline for all instructional materials is paramount to ensuring better engagement and retention.”

Between both companies, more than 450 videos in MP4 format, each averaging 15-20 minutes, are processed a month for viewing across a range of devices from mobile phones to tablets, computers and more. Some of these videos are made available via Cengage Unlimited, Cengage’s on-demand subscription service that offers online textbooks, course materials, and study tools. Video files are ingested into AWS Elemental MediaConvert from cloud storage and transcoded into HLS renditions using Quality-Defined Variable Bitrate control (QVBR). QVBR is an enhanced version of variable bitrate control (VBR) that AWS created to minimize wasted bits and automatically adjust bit rates to maintain consistent video quality. An Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) watch folder then triggers AWS Lambda in conjunction with AWS Systems Manager to copy files for playout.

“We want every customer to be pleased with their digital experience, which is why we love QVBR in MediaConvert,” added Binkiewicz. “It gives us the confidence that students will get a high-quality, low-latency experience across devices, regardless of bandwidth, while simplifying transcoding and helping us save on costs.”

“Bottom line: using cloud-based services from AWS gives us the best value in terms of quality and cost, as well as the agility we need to scale, which is why we’ve built our pipeline around it. We’re able to easily monitor and make changes to our pipeline, which saves us a ton of time,” added Coleman Greene, Manager, Cloud Operations, Cengage. MediaConvert in particular has made it easy to keep pace with the volume of content we produce and deliver by simplifying and accelerating how we set up, organize, and transcode large volumes of video.”