Pearson has recently added a few new initiatives taking the lead in all things virtual.
First, Pearson acquired Connections Education, "an accredited provider of high-quality, highly accountable virtual education for students in grades K-12, and online learning solutions to educational institutions globally. Through tuition-free public schools, full-time and part-time private school programs, and turnkey online courses for bricks and mortar schools, Connections Academy delivers superior, personalized education for students, accessible anywhere." According to the Pearson press release published in The Street, Connections Academy runs in "21 states in the US—serving more than 40,000 students in the current school year. These virtual charter schools are accredited and funded by the relevant state and are free to parents and students who choose a virtual school in place of a traditional public institution or other schooling options." Connections Academy already uses Pearson digital and curriculum materials.
According to reports, the private sector chair of ALEC's Education Task Force is Connections Academy, a private corporation based in Baltimore that offers free online classes through contracts with charter schools, school districts, or governmental entities. Sylvan Ventures (the venture capital arm of the for-profit Sylvan Learning Systems) started Connections Academy in 2001.
Secondly, Pearson has partnered with Google Apps for Education to offer all universities a free learning management system (LMS) called OpenClass. While the code is free, universities will still require developers to customize the LMS and will be required to purchase Pearson digital content and textbooks. This is precisely where Pearson will make money:
By offering a system that sucks colleges and universities in, then offering content that costs money but that integrates oh so conveniently into that system, they hope that the money they spend to offer the learning management system is more than made up by the additional content they'll sell.
For over a decade, Blackboard has dominated the university market by selling a license to use its LMS. According to Inside Higher Ed, it looks like Pearson is set to dominate the market in K-university e-learning.
"the media conglomerate Pearson controlled a shade over 1 percent of the market for learning management systems (LMS) among traditional colleges, according to the Campus Computing Project.This year, Pearson is taking aim at the other 99 percent."
The momentum to capture has not come without criticism. The NY Times reported that Pearson paid for trips taken by State Education Commissioners to Brazil, China, Singapore, and Finland and also won lucrative state testing contracts. Kentucky recently was awarded a $58 million contract and Kentucky State Education Commissioner went to China and Brazil on a Pearson paid trip. A Kentucky blogger, Education Voodoo asks:
One of these days, The New York Times will have a story about education in Kentucky that doesn’t make us look like a bunch of dummies. Maybe it will happen when pigs fly.