Thursday, December 11, 2008

Pearson’s new Fronter - good news for e-learning

M&A market for e-learning

Capital is being dammed up in investment companies and it needs an outlet. I have been doing on-going  work for a private equity house across Europe, and believe me, there’s real interest in investing in e-learning. Curiously, the credit crunch seems to have accelerated that interest. I can name four private equity groups who have or want to invest in this area. This is a damn good sign.

Fronter bought

Confirming my view that there are sectors that are relatively immune from the credit crunch, Pearson have gone to lapland and bought Norwegian company Fronter. This should be a good Christmas present  for Roger Larson, one of the founders.He gave a terrible keynote at Online Educa last week, a pure sales pitch, and the largely educational audience didn’t like it one bit. This was a shame, as the content of his talk was actually quite informative. It was a triumph of bad style over substance. However, they really have done something that works, with large numbers of students in schools. Rather than doing largely useless research they’ve actually done something in the real world that is helping thousands of students to learn.

This pushes their platform into the big time, as the winners in the VLE market tend to be those with sales and marketing clout and global reach. But it won’t be that easy. In the UK, they have proof of concept with the London Grid for Learning but London is not often the catalyst for the rest of the UK market. There can be no doubt that these systems can revolutionise learning in schools. Students, teachers and parents all have access to a transparent online system that provides communications, assignment submission, planning and shared resources for teachers. Homework can be seen to be set online, submitted online, and marked. This solves an eternal problem, often the subject of angst by parents. Teachers, of course, don’t like this function, as it forces them to set and mark homework. Teachers can also reuse materials (the source of much inefficiency in schools). Above all it provides an ‘always-on’ platform for students to structure and advance their learning.

Not all plain sailing

It won’t all be plain sailing. This is a fragmented market. There are dozens of vendors and sales are often down at individual school level, where cost of sale is high and budgets low. Once bought schools rarely have the project management skills to implement these systems efficiently, and there’s fierce resistance from more traditional teachers.


In 2009 we can look forward to some sensible consolidation in this market. There are financially weak companies that need to be bought or merged and, others that could expand by being properly capitalised.


Mark Berthelemy said...

Hi Donald,

We do need to have a talk about your negative feelings towards teachers ;-)

However, I do agree with your implied point that the technology gives the potential to change practice hugely, yet that potential is rarely achieved, mainly due to professional development, communication and management issues.

Some local authorities (eg. Buckinghamshire) have really got this sorted. Basically they give away the VLE service for free (in this case it's Moodle), but they expect teachers to go through a CPD programme (also funded), and contribute to a growing pool of resources (Moodle course) to be used across the county. If teachers don't keep their part of the bargain, then the local authority starts to charge them for the service. Ian Usher will be able to give you more up-do-date information on this.

But see: Moodle training

Donald Clark said...

Sounds good. This stuff certainly needs training but it also needs the teaching profession to move into the 21st century. I've witnessed the knuckle dragging personally in a local project, where it's nothing but delays and moans from teachers, while the learners suffer from poor levels and quality of homework.

It's good to see a county wide initiative. Schools that go it alone simply don't have the skills to get it done well.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations to Roger. I met him when he was first bringing Fronter to the UK, and was very impressed with his clarity of focus.

> as it forces them to set and mark homework.

Teachers are right to resist this. Marking is a huge drain on teacher time. It takes teachers away from where they add the most value - inspiring, mentoring, coaching young minds.

Of course assessment is necessary, but there are plenty of assessment strategies that support teachers' productivity far better. We only just starting to explore these in our service, and already most UK secondary schools are using us.