3 questions to Kathleen Carr from Pearson
Kathleen Carr and I met when she worked at edX. We’ve stayed connected over the years as she moved past edX to O’Reilly Media, and now to Pearson. Kathleen graciously agreed to answer my questions about Pearson, her current role and his professional career.
Q: I’m trying to understand where Pearson fits into the conversation that higher education is having about not-for-profit/for-profit partnerships in online learning programs. I think of Pearson as a textbook company, but I guess that’s not true. Is Pearson also an online program management company? What is Pearson doing in the world of e-learning?
A: Pearson is a digital learning company. That’s right, it started as a textbook company, but has evolved over the past 150 years to become a global leader in digital learning, one with a focus on the most relentless learner that I have never seen. Twenty thousand employees in more than 200 countries are committed to our mission of bringing to life a life of learning. We are focused on providing quality online learning products and services to people of all ages and life stages, from K-12 (like full-time virtual schools) to higher education (OPM and above) and workforce skills. We connect with learners directly and through our academic partners. Note, we have also been named 2022 fast business Most Innovative Education Company.
One of the things that excites us the most is how the lines between learning for higher education and work are blurring as employers become more and more receptive to alternative degrees. This opens many doors for learners interested in starting a career or upgrading, especially those who may not have been able to earn a degree. We focus on innovative and alternative educational pathways with our college, university and employer partners.
When it comes to higher education specifically, Pearson’s e-learning services team knows that many learners want stackable credentials as a starting point for degrees. Not only are stackables convenient, but they can allow learners to evaluate academic programs with a smaller, try-before-buy financial investment. Learners want to be sure that their courses will provide the relevant skills that resonate with employers. We are actively working with partners on programs to meet this demand. Pearson also recently acquired Credly to provide learners with digital credentials that they can add to their digital resumes and share with potential recruiters/employers.
Our partners also use Pearson+, our affordable subscription service for students to access Pearson’s digital textbooks. It has been used within my team to help universities replace content they struggle to license from publishers.
Through all of these efforts, we strive to make education more accessible; we want to remove barriers to entry while creating pathways to credit, because we know that college credit and traditional college degrees are still powerful currencies that denote rigor.
Drawing on years of experience running online programs, Pearson understands that colleges and universities want to expand their reach with affordable programs to meet the needs of today’s learners. They want to reduce costs for students and reduce costs to promote their programs and attract new students. They want to establish a continued college/university affinity and enable versatile, career-relevant degrees for a broader market, while fostering the development of incoming students who are prepared for degree programs. This is our wheelhouse, and I work on these challenges and solutions every day.
Q: Okay, thanks for all that background. Let’s talk about your work at Pearson. What are your main responsibilities as a senior manager at Pearson?
A: As Senior Director of Content Strategy and Product Development at Pearson, I am responsible for the content strategies we develop with new and existing partners. To be clear, my definition of content includes courses, certificates, degrees, and anything included in those products, like AI-based learning tools, discussions, assessments, and future formats.
I work to ensure that we use the right content, in the right product form, for the right audience so that students have amazing and impactful learning experiences and journeys. My team is particularly interested in content that advances a learner along a continuum of skills while directing them towards credentials that matter in their life and work. Typically, these are credit-backed with degree progression. For example, nurses who responded to the pandemic by obtaining certificates in telehealth and mental health.
We work with multiple partners to create learning paths and apply a data-driven strategy to ensure that learning leads to meaningful career moves, from improved skills to new jobs. Our acquisition of Faethm, a robust AI-powered data tool, means we can predict skill demand today and five to 10 years into the future, making our content recommendations even more accurate.
My content strategy leadership utilizes a disciplined innovation framework, data-driven recommendations, scalability, and process efficiency. We continuously assess the landscape, technology, and learner needs of today and tomorrow.
Q: Let’s talk about your career path. How has your experience working in universities, academic publishing, and edX (when it was nonprofit and academic) prepared you for your current leadership role at Pearson? What advice would you give to others considering a potential career in an education-focused company?
A: I have always been a people person and a communicator. (I like to say I run happy.) Writing was my first love, and editing, which allowed me to interview and interact with people and write, seemed like a logical next step. . And a Holy Cross elder gave me my first chance. While working in publishing, I also taught at Emerson College for several years. It has helped to sharpen my empathy for the opportunities and challenges that classroom learning and teaching provide. (I also learned how humiliating it can be to stand in front of 20 pairs of eyes for three hours as they look to you for answers and engagement.)
From there I worked at Harvard Business Review Press, where I was mentored by incredible leaders, many of whom remain my closest friends. I’ve been lucky enough to work with great minds in innovation and business, like VJ Govindarajan at Tuck and Harvard Business School professors, like Rob Austin.
Seeking to sharpen my business acumen, I got an MBA, then set out to see where my HBR friends had landed — many were at edX and MIT. They helped me realize that my experience with universities, building partnerships and using content in new ways, was a perfect fit for online course content strategy. I took a job at edX, where I loved the work and the mission.
I thought I had found the pinnacle of collegiality, fun, and intelligence at HBR and edX, until I came to Pearson. My colleagues at Pearson are some of the best I’ve ever worked with – dedicated, truly learner-centered, supporting each other, and on the path to pushing access to learning even further. I can’t imagine a more rewarding career than working in education. This has always been the priority in my family, and it remains the priority in my life. If that makes sense to you too, I would absolutely recommend pursuing a career, whether in academia or education technology. It’s constantly changing and evolving, giving you the chance to learn something new every day.