Project Literacy Makethon: Technology, Literacy and How A Diverse Group Can Deliver Real Solutions

Project Literacy helps children read

I had the chance to participate in the Project Literacy Makethon in partnership with Mashable on September 12, 2015 in San Francisco, CA. Project Literacy, a major new campaign convened by Pearson, seeks to make significant and sustainable advances in literacy over the next five years, so that all children, no matter their geography, language, race, class, or gender—can grow up to be literate adults. This event focused on building new tools, web apps, websites and data visualizations designed to make learning to read more accessible, fun and effective.

As a judge on the panel, it is always amazing to discover what a newly formed team, generally strangers prior to the event, are able to create in just six hours.

I used criteria very similar to those I apply when deciding on which social ventures will receive angel funding (see My Five Criteria for Evaluating an Investment), including:

  • Gut reaction—What was my overall first impression of this app?
  • Impact—Is the app is solving a real problem in an innovative way?
  • Innovative concept—Is the app’s concept creative, forward thinking, innovative and resourceful?
  • Usability—Is it easy to learn? Can the content be quickly navigated? Does the learner receive value early?
  • Ability to scale—Is the project the start of something bigger?
  • Execution—What was the team able to deliver in just a few hours? How well did the team work together?

All in all I was impressed by each team and how they used technology to create new possibilities.

Every team included members with very diverse professional and cultural backgrounds, and a few other common themes emerged, including:

  • Leveraging an array of multi-sensory assets in the form of video, voice or text to build part of their solution.
  • Utilizing open APIs published by leading technology companies.
  • Employing rapid prototyping skills to deliver working apps.

Here are a few examples of solutions:

  • In just under six hours the second place team, YouRhyme, had a working demo using YouTube’s API for a reading learning app that employed rhyming as an education method.
  • The Winning team, Read-Write, and the third place team, GOCabulary, both turned to Google translation APIs to deliver multi-lingual context, such as those found in India with its many local dialects, and English in the US, with its many Spanish speakers.
  • Two of the three projects designed-in the ability to map images to text to help mobile learners obtain a translation of a sign they could not read.

The big difference maker between all these great projects came from the Read-Write team who made accessibility a key project feature.

While most of the projects needed access to the Internet, through either a browser or a smart phone, the Read-Write team focused on a low-cost, low-power device that could deliver as much value as the smartphone.

Something else was special about that team as well:  they had members who were close to the target audience they were trying to help. In addition, unlike many participants at this event, they combined a rich knowledge of hardware with their software engineering expertise that enabled them to design an end-to-end solution. Team diversity, and having members who understand the target population well can be a golden bullet for success.

The event was a great reminder about the need for rapid prototyping. Teams really do not need months to get a prototype working. If they concentrate on creating a prototype early, it is so much easier to sell an idea or build a case about a proposed solution. Start-ups should always include prototyping capabilities in every product team so they can more rapidly evolve their solutions from concept to value delivery.

Project Literacy logo

Read more about Project Literary here.

Read the Mashable announcement here: Join Mashable and Project Literacy for a ‘makeathon’ to tackle illiteracy

Pearson English Solutions Wins Brandon Hall Group Learning Award


BrandonHall Group Logo

Pearson English Solutions Wins Brandon Hall Group Learning Award

I am very excited that Pearson English Business Solutions is being recognized for our focus on delivering outcomes that use our best of breed digital enabled learning experiences.

In April 2015, we submitted three Brandon Hall Group Learning and Development Award nominations along with our clients:  Al Tayer GroupIntesa Sanpaolo, and Tata Consultancy Services.


I’m happy to announce that every submission was a winner in their respective category:

intesa-sanpaolo-spa-logo Intesa Sanpaolo won a GOLD for “Best Use of Blended Learning
332898_1166693357 Al Tayer Group took home a BRONZE in “Best Results of a Learning Program”
TATA_cover_photo2 Tata Consultancy Services received a BRONZE for “Best Advance in Competencies and Skills Development”


You can find the complete list of winners here.


Again, congratulations to our clients, and to the Pearson English Solutions team, for delivering on our promise of excellence in learning.


Japan’s ASCII Raises Good Questions About English Proficiency Assessment

Good Questions About English Proficiency Assessment - ASCII Coverage of Pearson English Business Solutions

ASCII Coverage of Pearson English Business Solutions

Good Questions About English Proficiency Assessment – ASCII Coverage of Pearson English Business Solutions

It’s always interesting to see the International perspective on learning English. This week Japan’s ASCII looked at TOEIC, from the Education Testing Service, which is primarily used in Japan and South Korea to gauge English proficiency.

I think Mr. Morita has a point, in that TOEIC only tests one aspect of English proficiency. At Pearson English, we believe that organizations need to empower individuals to attain proficiency that matches their work, the context of the job. The like the idea of “Language Strategy” because we see language as a strategic capability, just like manufacturing or retail storefronts. If you don’t recognize the strategic importance of language, and you fail to invest to make it a world-class capability, you risk that your organization will loose out to those that do.

Here is a translation of the entire ASCII article (for the original click here).


Date: 2015/07/10

Tips on when a colleague brags about their TOEIC score

It is common that a colleague brags about their TOEIC score. Personally, I do not have a high score so I get impressed, but at the same time, I question the real value of achieving a high TOEIC score.

According to the  Silicon Valley-based e-learning company which provides “Pearson English Business Solutions”, unfortunately TOEIC is not a score that is recognized globally.

Most TOEIC students are from Japan and South Korea. Even taking out the average value of the score, it’s hard to say this is a global test.

You might say that it is good as a basis for calculating the basic level of English skill, but it is not sufficient to measure how well one can communicate/interact within multinational companies. Pearson also provides TOEIC course, but it’s only positioned as part of their education offerings.

Pearson is a company that has been providing English education as a part of human resource management solutions. It provides solutions as part of human resource assessment and development for the human resources department.

The need of English skill/vocabulary differs among diverse departments or careers – For example when giving a presentation or providing customer support in English.

Pearson’s solution is adopted by various multinational corporations. This is because all of the employees are required to be able to communicate at the same level.

For example, Pearson has been adopted by information companies such as Thomson Reuters. Apparently they position English education as “Language Strategy” in order to win competition. It is an amazing world.

Pearson has also conducted various tests as part of the English education. Since the solution itself is employed in multinational companies, Pearson is proud that the evaluation of the score has become global in nature.

My Takeaways from EdTech Europe

Karine Allouche Salanon attending EdTech Europe. Image used by permission of The PIE News.  (C) The PIE News 2015.

Karine Allouche Salanon attending EdTech Europe. Image used by permission of The PIE News. (C) The PIE News 2015.

On June 17, 2015 I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at EdTech Europe in London. As you can see by all of the great coverage already posted on my blog, there was a lot of interest in what these great leaders in education had to say, including my co-panelists John Martin of Sanoma Learning, Rob Grimshaw of TES Global and John Harber of EDGE EdTech.

I had six takeaways from these sessions that I think are important for anyone looking to transform education.

  1. Digitization is not the final end game. The end game is the value you deliver to the learner. While technology can provide great new experiences, those experiences are only as good as the learning they impart and the engagement they drive. We have to constantly remind ourselves that we learn in many ways, and aligning our businesses with only one approach to learning will not realize the potential for learners or the business.
  2. Learning is the overall experience. If digitization is just part of the experience, so too is content. We must think about all of the elements of the learning experience in order to provide the most impact to our learners.
  3. Don’t think of online just as a video or a course: focus on the whole learning experience, including the teacher. Flipped classrooms have taught us not that teachers are less relevant once they lecture, but that their most critical value comes when helping students integrate basic facts and ideas. We need to be cautious about thinking that broadcasting is the best answer in delivering education over networks. We also need to make sure that teachers have an opportunity to engage students, to answer their questions — and to continue their own learning.
  4. The power of digitally enabled human interaction in digital engagement. Learning is a collaborative experience, and we need to design our digital learning experiences so that they not only have the capabilities common to classrooms, but unique capabilities that can only be delivered in digital environments. Flying through space, examining a famous painting up close, or connecting with a native speaker in realtime when learning a language are examples of experiences that enhance learning and are really only available through digital technology.
  5. The importance of peer-to-peer engagement in online learning. If MOOCs have taught us anything, they have taught us that it is difficult to engage students in largely passive ways. I have already talked about the importance integrating teaching and teachers into the digital model, but we also have to create really wonderful ways for students to engage with each other. Thinking about learning as part of a community of learners fundamentally changes the way we learn and can greatly enhance the motivation to keep learning.
  6. Private equity investment is a “critical player” for education technology. As governments around the world struggle with budgets and the delivery of basic human services, education often becomes a key target in discretionary spending cuts. If we want to continue to see innovation in learning, we need to recognize that education is a business, and that investments of private equity will be crucial to transforming rhetoric about education into reality.

To this last point Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet of IBIS Capital, a large investment group specializing in EdTech pointed out that only 3% of funding is going to the education industry today. Of that 35% is going to digital components. He can see this increasing 12 times, but it might take as much at 5 times to realize a return on investments. Education is a slower technology than something like social media or digital photography. It has a slower adoption curve and a lower return rate, but there is nothing wrong with, as Vedrenne-Cloquet points out, “attracting patient capital.”

But despite the relatively slow adoption of education technology, we have to realize that the markets into which students graduate are changing at a very rapid pace.

The skill gaps we see today will not be the same skill gaps in five years. It is important that we create technologies that can help adapt learning experiences to new needs, both in terms of content, and in terms of learners. Non-traditional students are perhaps the biggest growth segment of learners: single parents, those over the age of 25 and people with day jobs.

If we want our economies to thrive, we must meet the needs of these students because we are going to see their ranks growing. They are already contributing as workers in the economy, and are now also learners looking to find ways to make sure they can continue to contribute. Those of us in the education industry must find ways to meet those needs. That is our real value to society and the economy.

EdTech Europe provided a great platform for discussion. I look forward to continuing the dialog here on my blog, and in other conferences.

The original image and its associated article at The PIE News can be found here: Karine Allouche Salanon, CEO, Pearson English Business Solutions.

My EdTech Interview on PIE News


Karine Allouche Salanon says online learning is a redundant term given we live in a “digitally-enabled” world now.

EdTech Europe has been covered from many perspectives. I was really excited when I saw my interview show up at PIE News.

My EdTech Interview on PIE News

KAS: What we do is to enable Fortune 2000 companies that are global to ensure their talent can operate, communicate and collaborate in English. So we work with them in partnership across the talent management ecosystem, from recruitment onwards. When there is a talent gap, we fix that gap with different learning modalities for the employees, through virtual classrooms, or executive coaching. The solution we recommend will depend on how fast, or what type of outcomes they’re expecting from the learning.

The PIE: And you said that the English training delivered is 90% online?

KAS: Yes, we have about 90% of our business online because that was really the core of the company. We diversified our offering adding human coaching in recent years and saw a great impact.

About two months ago, we inserted a virtual advisor to a bundle with all online services and we have enrolled 5,000 new learners in two months now with advisors. We’ve started to blend everything we do, just with different levels of touch.

Outside of the Western world, it’s really about accessibility.

Read the entire post at PIE News: Karine Allouche Salanon, CEO, Pearson English Business Solutions

EdTech Europe Coverage from PIE News

EdTech Europe Coverage from PIE News

EdTech Europe Coverage from PIE News

The number of places covering the EdTech Europe is really amazing. PIE, which covers News and business analysis for Professionals in International Education, posted What works offline doesn’t work online: edtech stakeholders, late last week.

Here are my quotes from the article

Karine Allouche Salanon, CEO of Pearson English Business Solutions, also underlined the need to prioritise the student experience.

“Human interaction is so important,” she told The PIE News, after advising MOOC providers to take an active approach to facilitating peer-to-peer engagement, rather than relying on video lectures alone.

Allouche Salanon was drawing on her own experience from curating online career development training at Pearson.

Since becoming CEO in 2013, she has taken the division from negative to double digit growth and the division saw its course completion rates soar from 11% to 76%, after it introduced a digital counsellor to help students on its online programmes.

“We only had the online, self-study learning product when I came in, and we introduced much more blended [learning] in every single thing we do,” she said.

You can read the entire post here:  What works offline doesn’t work online: edtech stakeholders.

For additional coverage in EdTech Europe, see this post: EdTech Europe Coverage – “digitalisation is not the final end game”

Businesses no longer exist in a vacuum – My Comments at Hot Topics


From my Interview with Hot Topics

I had an opportunity to talk with Hot Topics. I’m really encouraged by all of the interest in learning innovations. They also shot a nice video. Enjoy!

“I think that if you are just looking at English when you are talking about a corporation- you need to look much wider to really realize your ecosystem of competition.”

“If you see the acquisition of Lynda by LinkedIn, this is a recruitment organization getting into content, so that they can actually plug in with a learning equipment service value chain…I’m looking at the overall ecosystem and I could almost say that LinkedIn and Lynda…could be competitors, knowing that their English offering is not as strong as what we propose right now. But there could be disruption in the future.”

Read the entire post, How is English language learning within corporates being disrupted?, at Hot Topics.


EdTech Europe Coverage – “digitalisation is not the final end game”

edtech europe

Last week I spoke at EdTech Europe, and was quoted in Education Investor.

Salanon said tech could help forge tie-ups with industry, but stressed “digitalisation is not the final end game but about the value created for customers”.

“What are people learning for? They are learning to get a job, they are learning to find their next opportunity,” she said.

“Like any disruption, whoever brings us most value is going to be most successful.

Read the entire article,  Ed tech promises ‘gigantic wave of change  at Education Investor.

My session was also mentioned at Forbes: Edtech Europe 2015 Throws Up More Than Enough Questions and Answers To Pass The Test (I’m wearing the bright yellow jacket on the left of the stage in the page image below).

EdTech Forbes


More coverage continues to come in. Here is a mention at EdSurge: The 20 Edtech Startups Changing Education in Europe