In this blog’s post about the benefits of digital educational materials, I touched on how technology can allow for a more personalized learning experience for students. As we’ve looked at the big publishers in this segment, we’ve seen this to be a common goal of many of the products they are producing, with a few of the companies approaching this goal through a focus on data (McGraw-Hill Education recently acquired Key Curriculum and Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt recently purchased Choice Solutions). While the idea of providing a more individualized educational experience to students is a philosophy that is gaining more attention as new digital products make it easier, individualized learning has been an established accommodation for students for almost four decades.

The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) was introduced to school systems in 1975 in order to provide students with disabilities and special needs an equal opportunity in the classroom. IEPs outline modifications for coursework that meet a student’s specific needs and must set measurable goals for him or her, among other things. These plans show a need for a certain kind of educational materials, but the main educational publishers seem to be limited in what they offer for IEP students.

In this blog’s introductory post, we identified four main markets within education publishing, and materials for students with special needs were addressed in one of them: English Language Learners (ELLs). When searching through the websites of the big players–Pearson, McGraw-Hill Education, Scholastic, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt–this market is evident: when they broke their products down by category, English Language Learners was commonly included. However, this market needs to address more students with special needs than just ELLs. The number of students with IEPs is rising; DC public schools, for example, reported a two-point percentage increase of their IEP students from 2008 to 2012, with more than 10,000 DC students currently on IEPs. While the big publishers are doing a lot to extend the philosophy of individualized education to the general population of students, they need to do more to enhance the experience of the students for whom these programs were originally designed.

As we’ve seen, when there is a void in the marketplace such as this, startups have the ability to thrive. This is where GoalBook comes in; named the ninth top education startup of 2012 by TeachThought, GoalBook aims to be the first online, social resource for special education teachers. GoalBook strives toward success for “ALL” students and the company uses technology specifically to do this by creating an online space for special education teachers to improve their instruction. GoalBook believes that “teachers are THE factor” in the success of a student with special needs and wants to help them “make their work more effective, research-based AND sustainable.”

On its main page for teachers, the GoalBook website highlights the following benefits it provides to special education instructors: Our IEP Goals are Better; Align IEPs to the Common Core with Ease; Personalize to the Needs of your Students; We Help you Write Goals AND Achieve Them; Discover the Right Goal, Fast (as shown below with their “Goal Finder” feature); and Best In-Class Professional Development for Districts.

GoalBook's Goal Wizard

GoalBook’s Goal Wizard helps teachers find the right goals for their students

Unlike some of the education startups we’ve explored that offer their resources for free, GoalBook charges rates for their services: $32.95 a month for teachers, $395 a year for a district/school premium membership and $575 a year for a district/school gold membership, which offers analytics dashboard, online professional development and one-to-one coaching for teachers.

While the big publishers approach digital material from the big picture, startups like GoalBook can address the needs of a smaller demographic of students, such as those with special needs.



Pearson is not only the largest educational publisher in North America, but the largest publisher in the world. In 2012, Pearson reported total revenue of $9.16 billion. This summer, Pearson and Bertelsmann announced the merger of Penguin and Random House, leaving Pearson to focus its publishing energy on education, a segment it already dominates. According to Pearson’s own site, almost 50% of US schools use Pearson products.

As the leading publisher in this segment, it’s no surprise that Pearson is making huge progress with e-publishing, offering a wide variety of digital products that are designed to benefit both teachers and students and that can be accessed on computers, tablets, and mobile devices. The screenshot below from their “Digital & Mobile” products page shows the broad scope of products Pearson offers across various media:

Screenshot taken from http://www.pearsonschool.com/index.cfm?locator=PS1g49 on 6 Oct 2013

Pearson is approaching the shift to digital from a comprehensive perspective by developing technological products that penetrate each segment of the educational publishing market identified in this blog’s introductory postcontent; instructional support; platforms and administrative tools; and a special segment that includes advanced placement, special education, and English language learner materials. Pearson’s Digital Learning products shows how well technology can merge these four markets into one cohesive product that makes a more seamless learning experience for students and a far easier instructional experience for teachers.

Pearson’s Digital Learning products are featured on their Instructional Resources website (pearsonschool.com), and their product categories shows the breadth of content they cover: Reading/Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, World Languages, AP® Honors & Electives, Art, Music, ELL, School Improvement Services, Professional Development, Career & Technical Education, and College & Career Readiness. But Pearson’s varied subject matter doesn’t just account for their success; the innovative digital products they are creating across these content areas prove their dedication to and talent in improving the learning experience.

When searching through Pearson’s Science products, a teacher has a variety of options to enhance the classroom for different students and budgets. Pearson continues to offer innovative, but more affordable, print products, such as their supplemental Oil Spill Case Study, a topical 32-page booklet that can be used alongside any Pearson program for grades 6-12; a class set of 25 bundle with one answer key is $54.97. Their featured iBook Science Textbook, Biology (National Edition), by Kenneth R. Miller, Ph.D. and Joseph S. Levine, Ph.D., is only $14.99 on iTunes.

Pearson also offers the teachers and schools that can afford it the most cutting-edge technology, including their multimedia Interactive Science Curriculum and Online Learning Exchanges. Their Interactive Science programs focus on three pathways of learning: reading, where students can engage the page by writing in their own workbooks; inquiry, where different levels of inquiry are scaffolded; and personalized technology, where students can go online, anytime. Below, a screenshot of the K-5 Interactive Science program’s brochure explains the online components of the curriculum.

Pearson_Interactive Science Program

These programs aren’t exactly $14.99 on iTunes, though; a kindergarten class set of 25 student editions, digital courseware with a 7-year student license and a single year big book flipchart costs $1,087.47. Their Online Learning Exchanges are just as impressive, but just as expensive; 6-year access to their Earth Science exchange for grades 6-8 costs $32.47 per student, per year.

To address the fact that many teachers can’t afford their products without spending their own money, Pearson regularly links to funding support resources on their site, from information about grants such as Race to the Top to an Educational Funding Blog. [*Blogger’s Note: However, in a fine example of what Seth Godin refers to as “broken” technology, if you attempt to “Ask a Funding Question,” you’ll receive this unfortunate error.] Pearson has dedicated its own energy as a company to research affordable learning as well: In May 2012, the company started the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund (PALF) to help create and improve low-cost private schools across the world.

Pearson isn’t showing any signs of slowing their e-publishing development; in fact, they are dedicating more money and attention to technology in order to improve their products–and learning–in the future. This November, Pearson will host the virtual conference “A New Frontier: Re-imagining the Next Generation of Education 2013.”  At the end of this past July, Pearson announced an edtech partnership with 1776, “an incubator platform based in Washington, D.C.” Co-founder of 1776 Evan Burfield explains the implications the partnership has on the future of America’s education system and the companies that support it:

“America’s education system is at a crossroads and a forward-thinking approach is needed to solve many challenges, Pearson is using technology to invent new ways of learning; and by working with organizations like 1776 and our startups, Pearson’s experts not only provide insights around data and technical integration strategies, they can advise startups on effectively penetrating and scaling in the education market.”

Pearson’s broad coverage of content makes them an easy force to dominate the educational publishing market, but their shift from print-to-digital shows a conscientious effort to enhance the student’s and teacher’s experience.  As the massive force it is in the educational publishing industry, it’s no surprise that Pearson is making incredible digital advancements across all their products, but the way they’ve done it reveals that Pearson is concerned about more than just turning a profit, but with continuously improving the learning experience and, true to their slogan, always learning as a company.