Chief Technology Officer
Cengage Learning is a leading educational content, technology, and services company for the higher education and K-12, professional and library markets worldwide. The company provides superior content, personalized services and course-driven digital solutions that accelerate student engagement and transform the learning experience.
Driven by the belief that engagement is the foundation of learning, Cengage Learning’s focus is on interacting with students, both in the classroom and beyond, to ensure the most effective product design, learning solutions and personalized services. Cengage Learning’s award-winning digital learning solution, MindTap, is a fully built course experience that integrates reading, homework, quizzing, multi-media assets and more into a pedagogically sound education experience for students.
Headquartered in Boston, MA with an office hub in San Francisco, CA, Cengage Learning employees reside in nearly 40 different countries with company sales in more than 125 countries around the world. www.cengage.com.
At Cengage Learning, we’re knee deep in the metamorphosis from a traditional textbook publisher to a technology company, with a concentration around digital products for the high school and higher ed markets. As the CTO, I’m one of the folks leading that charge. Ours is a culture that values engagement, empowerment and discovery and we’re working to enrich the relationship between educators and students. We’re committed to engaging and motivating students to advance how they learn. It’s our core mission.
When the textbook was first created, it provided the connection between professor and student. Fast forward to today. Student consumers have 21st Century concerns but, until recently, we weren’t really meeting them. We, and most ed content providers, have a long history of mostly paying attention to what professors wanted. And yet it’s the students who use our products, so we need a better understanding of their wants and needs. To us, the challenge – the way we keep growing – is to remain focused on the student and the professor.
Digital products provide the learning breakthroughs that static print books do not deliver and at a more realistic price point. Because we were a textbook company for such a long time, we have a wealth of world-class content to work with as we build our digital products. Although textbooks do still have an important role in higher education, our growth potential now is on the digital side. We’re currently realizing more than half of our sales from digital products.
Right now, I’m especially excited about a commitment that Cengage has made to take everything we’ve learned about how students learn and establish a completely new approach to teaching developmental studies. Millions of students need the academic preparation provided by developmental courses to persist and succeed in college. We’re tackling the entire curriculum, creating the first learning experience that’s built completely from scratch.
Developmental Math is especially important. We are working to deploy new approaches using technology to better motivate and engage students, so more students can attain confidence in their ability to master math skills. The impact of developmental courses can be powerful, opening the door to education and employment for tens of thousands. Since I lead a technology organization, I can tell you first-hand how important it is to get more students interested in STEM fields. We must find additional talent in these areas, and as a company, Cengage works hard to ensure that all our math and science products are improving student success.
Our research shows that students who use our MindTap products have better outcomes. In a recent head-to-head study of 2,000 chemistry students at Texas Tech University, a professor examined the performance of MindTap General Chemistry users versus users of a competitor’s product. His findings were remarkable. MindTap users overwhelmingly outperformed users of the other product. To us, this is the best possible news.
In order to be effective at helping students learn, we must continue to provide a great user experience for them, or they won’t want to use our products. One way to keep up with students is through our 21 Voices research program, which allows us to follow a group of 21 students through their entire college experience, listening carefully to what they say for the duration. The unique program focuses on learning about their day-to-day lives, with the intention of understanding when and where they learn, and discovering new opportunities to help them succeed. These insights support our efforts to design and deliver products that engage and delight students.
As part of this, we gather a lot of information about how students use our digital products and why. We’re aware that student privacy is a big concern whenever we collect and store personally identifiable or other sensitive information. The laws around privacy – and students’ expectations – are changing all the time. We reassess our privacy posture constantly, especially around product and technology changes.
When developing products for students, the technology team works very closely with our counterparts on the product side of Cengage. My team knows how to build the products, and Chief Product Officer Jim Donohue’s team tells us what products to build. Internally, among the engineers, we have a young demographic. They remember what it’s like to be in college and they raise their hands when something doesn’t look right. They provide me with excellent feedback on what students need in order to do well in their studies and what the student experience should be.
We have a very unique culture here, with a strong sense of accountability and personal responsibility. We try to create the feeling of a small startup inside a big company. We’ve brought together a group of people who are committed to making a big impact on education. By working here, they get to touch the lives of millions of people every day, one student at a time. Most people who work at Cengage could have chosen to work at a very different type of company. But, like me, they choose to work here because we’re making a big difference in education, and that allows us to have a positive impact on society.