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Cal State Online Picks Pearson: a Q&A With Matthew Leavy

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Last month California State University (CSU) announced a partnership with Pearson to expand Cal State Online. It sounded like interesting because K12, Inc., Connections Education, Apex Learning and others are providing similar services to public school districts in K-12. However, I hadn't heard of similar deals in higher education and it sounded like a new line of business for Pearson. So I called Matt Leavy, President of eCollege, a Pearson subsidiary serving higher education.

TVA: Is this partnership more than platform and content?
ML: Yes, it operates on a several different levels starting with Learning Studio, a learning management system, and in some cases includes marketing, enrollment management, retention services, and tech support. They can pick the level of support they want.

TVA: Is this a partnership with whole CSU system?
ML: Cal State Online is run out of chancellor's office in Long Beach. Cal State Online is an aggregator of programs. Each of the campuses has opportunity to put programs online; one might contribute a social work program, an MBA from another.

TVA: Will CSU be using Pearson content or homegrow curriculum?
ML: It will be a mixture of faculty-developed and purchased. We have a digital content library that covers general education.

TVA: Pearson will be providing marketing and enrollment management for some campuses. Are these new services for Pearson?
ML: We work with seven statewide institutions and provide these services widely, in some cases through partner organizations. We do enrollment management for ASU. We also help ASU integrate new technology. (See this Getting Smart blog about adaptive developmental math.)

TVA: Is this a white-label service?
ML: Yes, it's branded completely CSU. The university staffs their own programs and academic decision making/control remains with the institution.

TVA: Does the growing global demand for post-secondary access make partnerships for online learning a big growth opportunity?
ML: We think so. Everyone tries to do this themselves, and realizes that at volume its hard to market, engage, and deliver high-quality education. Pearson has a giant array of assets--a learning platforms and quality content, we partner wisely and solve a variety of problems and customize solutions for institutions. We think supporting the development of online post-secondary will be a huge business for pearson and a good service for the marketplace.

TVA: Who is your target market?
ML: We work best with folks pushing the edges and interested in a nontraditional model. We are confident that we can help them grow enrollment and extend access.

TVA: Could this eventually double enrollment of the CSU?
ML: Well, the CSU serves 450,000 students so maybe not double, but it could boost enrollment of participating programs over the next few years. We will help them expand access to students that want to go to CSU. It has the potential to reconnect a large number students that started at CSU but haven't been able to complete a degree--a huge benefit for state of California.

TVA: Is online learning becoming more widely accepted?
ML: There has been 10 to 15 years of angst about whether online is good enough for schools like ASU and Cal St. The research has been there for 10 years but it has still has been a battle. The recent interest in MOOCs especially with interest by Harvard and Stanford helps drives credibility of online learning.

TVA: Supporting the development and expansion of online programs should be big business internationally, right?
ML: We agree. We have joint ventures in Mexico, Australia, and Europe, and the model works everywhere. It will explode in emerging economies. Take Brazil for example, the U.S. has twice the higher education penetration and they simply don't have the money to spend on facilities and students can't afford big fees.

TVA: A critic has called this "outsourcing of core competency." What are your thoughts?
ML: His questions are the right questions if you haven't seen the contract which will be a public document. CSU retains all academic decision making and has a great deal of flexibility in which of our services they take on and how much they pay us on a program by program basis. CSU also decides which programs to put on line and faculty will decide what goes into the individual courses. It is hard to see how this is outsourcing of their "online learning strategy," or of core competencies rather it is outsourcing those tactical and technical operations required for scale.

TVA: Can we say that learning online is easier?
ML: There is a student tendency to believe it will be easier and take less time but there's not much evidence of that. Frequent assignments makes it hard to cram. Most online courses force engagement several time per week--it feels relentless when you're in the middle of it. With all of the data we capture there is lot of opportunity to inform students about their learning--that's the next frontier.

TVA: What's new with OpenClass?
ML: OpenClass is a free LMS in the cloud with tight integration of Google Apps. It was built for the higher education space but has more K-12 than post-sec usage. That may say something about the alternatives in K-12. Abilene Christian is an early adopter.

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