Pearson's Efficacy Measures Case Study

Pearson is taking a radical approach to transparency and its commitment to deliver impact for learners.

The world’s largest education company is taking a radical approach to transparency and its commitment to deliver impact for learners.

58 million primary-aged children are not in school.1 250 million children worldwide are in school but not learning.2 Globally, over 750 million adults are illiterate.3 Reaching the Sustainable Development Goals on education will require all actors, public and private, to partner and work effectively together.

Employing nearly 35,000 people and serving more than 75 million learners, Pearson reaches much of the world with its education services and products. But impact, not size, is the key metric that the company judges its success against. As its CEO John Fallon says, its mission is, “to make people’s lives better. If we fail at that, we fail as a business.”4

That mission led Pearson to develop and embed a program of “efficacy,” making a public commitment in 2013 to report publicly on the impact of its products. This focus drove Pearson to change how it develops, tests, improves and sells its products, and in 2018, those claims will be subject to a third-party audit.5 This focus marks Pearson’s efforts towards the SDGs. Impact not just actions or claims.

Efficacy begins with defining what learning outcomes should be expected to emerge as a result of using a product. As part of instituting this new program, Pearson reviewed over 250 products against their intended outcomes.

This focus on outcomes definition allows product designers and researchers to ensure that they know what a product is intended to achieve, whether research backs up that theory or claim and keeps the design process focused.

A robust measurement6 programme utilises different types of studies to determine whether its products are having their intended impact. In advance of 2018, Pearson has begun reporting on these findings back to its customers and the market.7

  • A Randomized Control Trial (RCT) showed that, compared to peers who did not use the product, learners who used Bug Club, a reading programme for primary school students were three months in word decoding and spelling and two months ahead in reading comprehension on average.8
  • CTI/MGI is a series of institutes of higher education in South Africa focused on career-readiness. Six months after graduating, more than two-thirds (68 percent) of CTI graduates are in full-time, part-time or voluntary work; in further education; or in a training program.9

But efficacy doesn’t stop with measurement and reporting, it continues with improvement. Pearson uses algorithms to improve student retention, along with education research, reviews, improvement groups, analytics, evidence from implementation.

This is part of Pearson’s larger focus on the principles of sound learning design (recently made available to the public under a Creative Commons license).10

Research and reporting is not a new practice for an education company, but this systematic and transparent approach to accountability is an unprecedented step. This approach, combined with goals to reach and impact 200 million learners by 2025,11 and other goals set out in its 2020 Sustainability Plan, comprises Pearson’s strategy for making measurable progress in the lives of learners and towards the Sustainable Development Goals.