Can Pearson Solve the Rubric’s Cube?

Michael Feldstein, Jan 02, 2014
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Longish (7,000 words) post on Pearson Publishing's Pearson’s "startling publication" The Incomplete Guide to Delivering Learning Outcomes and their new efficacy web site. There's a lot to cover. First, Pearson has a history, and public impressions of Pearson are not good. So people have doubts when Pearson writes about the efficacy of online learning (despite the nice dovetail with Tony Bates's recent work). Efficacy, as they acknowledge, is difficult to define. They try this: "an education product has efficacy if it has 'a measurable impact on improving people’s lives through learning.'" (Note - the term 'educational product' is converted (for no good reason) to 'course' in Feldstein's paraphrasing).

We can question whether learning resources should be evaluated by efficacy at all, and whether it should be the publisher defining efficacy (as opposed to, suggests Feldtsein, the faculty selecting the resource), but the shift is a part of Pearson's effort to "finally [give] some thought to how they can design products that students actually want to use and buy." And the push to 'measurable' ties in with a strategy to try to "prove that those products actually…you know…work. If they do work." (Of course, with the vendor creating the metrics, we can be pretty sure they will 'work'). Interestingly, in order to do this, they have to transform the entire company, which forms the second part of Feldstein's post.

So, how will Pearson transform itself into an outcomes-foocused publisher? Feldstein writes, "Surprisingly, Pearson’s CEO John Fallon’s answer was, 'I’ll create a rubric.'" There's an online tool for applying the rubric. Additionally, they are incorporating the rubric internally; "the company is making a substantial investment in activities that should be conversation- and culture-building," including "a partnership with Nesta to define standards of evidence in educational efficacy research." Why a partnership with a private charity instead of actual educators? Therein lies the problem, writes Feldstein: "Pearson is creating their framework largely on their own, selectively inviting in external participants here and there." And they "don’t plan to share product efficacy scoring as part of our sales and marketing materials per se."

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