Taking knowledge from text to tech in India

Taking knowledge from text to tech in India
Learning science company McGraw-Hill Education (MHE), which provides customised educational content, software, and services for pre-K through postgraduate education, is on a transformational journey by reinventing its business proposition.

MHE, formerly a division of The McGraw-Hill Companies, was divested from McGraw Hill Financial and acquired by Apollo Global Management in March 2013. In an interaction with Deccan Herald’sN V Vijayakumar, McGraw-Hill Education International and Professional President Mark Dorman dwells on the business opportunities in India, and the impact of technology.

Education and publishing is going through a paradigm shift globally, thanks to the impact of digital technology. How is your company gearing up to face challenges and capture the market?

We started our journey as a textbook company and that is how people think of us. Since we became a private company two-and-half years ago, and separated from McGraw Hill Financial, we became an independent organisation focused only on education. We’ve been going through transformation with an experience of around 125 years.

We have been developing good quality education content, and now we are in the midst of that transformation. We have focused more on our adaptive personalised learning solutions, where we have a combination of high quality content and designing pedagogy. Now we call ourselves a learning science company, which has really gone through this change over the last three years. We now deliver platforms with instrumented learning that’s personalised to the individual learner, and supports the teacher or the professor.

What’s the name of that platform?

‘Connect’ is the platform where we have our adaptive technology, Learn Smart, and tool, ALEKS. Connect is the platform in which the adaptive technology sits. So if you imagine, Connect would be the platform the professor would have, and inside would be materials, some of which will be adaptive and based on a Learn Smart technology. ALEKS is a very specific tool that is an adaptive maths platform.

How are the consumer or customer feeds on these kinds of platforms?

So imagine that a university or a professor adopts the programmes, and so you have the technology, and Connect would be the platform. So if you are a mechanical engineering student, you can access the mechanical engineering content and material through the Connect platform.

As students work their way through the material and interact with the content, it will adapt and adjust as to how they are actually learning. It gives the students feedback so that they know how they are performing. It also gives the professor feedback on how that student is performing relative to a learning objective. There is an analytics package which sits behind the interactions that student with the materials that gets fed both to the students so that we understand where they are and to the instructors so they know how the students are performing.

So from publishing to learning science, and the learning science solutions company, what is the business you are expecting from this particular component?

We expect this to be the future of our business. In US higher education, for example, around 50 per cent of our cash revenues are from digital sources. In India, for the past two years, we have been using it in universities, especially IIM Calcutta, IIM Indore, IIT Kharagpur, etc. We operate in over 30 countries globally and we sell in many more, and most of them have deployed our technology.

Looking at what you call transformation of people, concepts, classes and roles, do you have any plan to come up with any products which will integrate all these solutions and products?

In terms of BYOD, devices are connected to our solutions which are on the cloud. They are responsive to the device that people are accessing, so it already works on your mobile device. We already have a series of apps which are compatible with Android, iOS and Windows.

Learning science business solutions will overtake publishing. When will this happen?
It will happen in a few years as education is approached in a holistic way. We don’t break up, because we do believe that there will be blended learning for a considerable period. So you will have paper-based requirements and digital solutions happening at the same time. We do expect however that the digital part will be a bigger part of our business, and will emerge the biggest part in a very short period of time.

So coming to digital, can you explain your business model?

We have the platforms that we’ve built and we clearly are adapting our content, and making them instrumented learning courses. Specifically in India, we are much bigger in higher education, that’s the biggest part of our business today. So that personalised adaptive learning, it’s not free for all, it’s actually artificial intelligence guides. We have two models that are coming up.

One is the traditional way in which the professor will adapt the technology and will implement the platform into the institution and the student will gain access. Users will have to take licence to get access to that platform, moving forward. Globally, we also see that institutions buying the platform as a whole and institutional purchase of software technology on a recurring basis, in order for them to deliver that as a part of the learning experience, because the course of the learning and technology come together. So you get both enterprise sales of software in the institution, as well as the individual sale of licences to the students, so there are two different models. All our solutions are cloud-based. Right now, we deliver the combination of things that are in the data centre, but which are delivered through the cloud.

How do you view the challenges around delivery of education in India?

I think you need to settle two things. Infrastructure is very important for the delivery of education. Because we’re utilising the cloud, we know that we can get performance in India. So we can deliver all of our solutions globally without having to be tied to one geography. But what we are focused on India is making sure we deliver products which are specific for the Indian market. We have a team of over 250 people who are focused on making sure that products are made for the Indian market, but using world-class technology. We have a product development team here, located in Noida.

So you foresee the platform and the delivery via cloud as the next wave of business. What are the other changes you expect?

You can’t take one education product and stuff it into another market. We need to make sure that we have that local touch on top of our world-class technology. So we see learning as science, and we can apply that to different segments within education. In India, the biggest part of our business is higher education today. We also do test preparation for people gearing up for service entrance exams, the IIT entrance exams, and so on. Besides, making students career-ready, we are working on vocational education in India.

And,then lastly the other piece is K-12. The biggest portion of all the world’s school children are in India, so there is a big market for us and there are some structural challenges in India, but I think the deployment of our technology will help. Skilling is a big movement in India, as the government is going for a massive manufacturing initiative.

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