Big Digital Learning Firm Weld North Gobbles Up Another Education Company, LearnZillion

Education technology company Weld North Education has acquired K-12 digital curriculum provider LearnZillion as it moves to create a comprehensive set of digital-first curriculum products coupled with assessments and analytics.

Weld North Chairman and CEO Jonathan Grayer called the acquisition of LearnZillion a “seminal moment” in Weld North’s expansion and its effort to allow teachers to personalize and shape the learning process, and a challenge to the traditional educational textbook industry that typically serves the core curriculum market.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The addition of LearnZillion to the portfolio of companies and products that Weld North has been gathering for years means the company now has a digital set of offerings for students in core classes—not just supplemental education and interventions—all blended with analytics, assessment, and data to allow educators to customize instruction.

“The buyers of initial credit or core credit want the same benefits of data and assessment and adaptive learning tools” that are now being provided in digital, supplemental, and invention-focused curriculum products, Grayer said in an exclusive interview with EdWeek Market Brief featured in a Q&A below. Though many core subject offerings use textbooks with an added digital component, that content is not designed as digital first, Grayer said.

LearnZillion offers a platform featuring core curricula in math and English/language arts, authored by Illustrative Mathematics and EL Education. With Weld North’s additional resources “we will be able to fully leverage the advantage of technology for teachers in the classroom–content customization, embedded supports, and real time data–to continue to improve student outcomes,” said Eric Westendorf, CEO and founder of LearnZillion, in statement.

Weld North Education says it serves 7 million students pre-K-12 students in 20,000 schools and the acquisition of LearnZillion will add an additional 400,000 students annually.

Last year, Weld North acquired Assessment Technology Inc., a company with psychometric assessment and reporting tools, which now powers other offerings in the portfolio. Around the same time, Weld North also snapped up Glynlyon, a digital education company that offers self-paced online learning to K-12 schools.

A Turn to Core Curriculum

Weld North Education’s central offerings already showcased digital curriculum providers, but not in the core curriculum areas. The company’s core business revolves around Edgenuity, which features online and blended intervention and supplemental curricula, and Imagine Learning, a supplemental provider of literacy, language, and math products.

In 2018, private equity firm and technology investor Silver Lake purchased a majority stake in Weld North for an estimated $925 million. Several months later, Silver Lake made an undisclosed investment in the company.

Jonathan Grayer
Weld North CEO Jonathan Grayer

Grayer, the former CEO of postsecondary education company Kaplan, has guided Weld North through this series of acquisitions with an eye on the long-term goal of providing a full complement of digital-first curricula coupled with the tools needed to reshape the educational process. He’s done that in a fashion that might be familiar to those who watched his leadership of Kaplan, where he led the company from 1994 to 2008 through a period of rapid growth and aggressive acquisition.

Grayer spoke with EdWeek Market Brief Senior Writer Michelle Davis about the LearnZillion deal and Weld North’s plans for the future. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Why did you choose LearnZillion to fit into the portfolio Weld North Education has been building?

Our technology, coupled with what LearnZillion has developed, is going to enable initial credit learning to be driven by digital-first curriculum. Today, the core-curriculum market has been dominated by textbook providers and textbook products that have addendum digital products packaged in with them, but they’re not digital-first curricula. The use of data to learn, to inform that learning, to change the way a product is offered to a customer–in this case a learning curriculumand to keep track of strengths and weaknesses and all kinds of insights into how a child is learning is only possible if you’re capturing that data.

Where LearnZillion needed help is scaling their sales force. In our industry, that has been brutally hard for everyone.

How is this acquisition connected to the deals you made last year with ATI and Glynlyon? 

I’m buying digital curriculum of all kinds and then the tools that make it more adaptive. If you look at what we’ve purchased, it’s either curriculum itself or tools that allow us to power that curriculum so it’s more efficacious. The way it becomes more efficacious is by putting adaptive engines in it using assessment tools, both outside of the product or within it during the day, so that we can give each student her own lesson plan and the teacher can follow the progress in a much more granular way.

I am trying to assemble assets that use the power of those tools, not to evaluate the child, but to make the learning experience more effective. My goal is to make data not scary. Learning more about a child’s learning needs doesn’t make him or her labeled. It makes him or her more capable of succeeding.

One of the complaints we frequently hear from educators is around interoperability—that many of the digital products they use don’t work together seamlessly. Are you able to blend the products and companies Weld North has acquired in that way?

We feel confident that the answer is mostly yes. But the burden is on us to make that answer be yes not only for our product sets, but for when we integrate other people’s. LearnZillion has an operating system that allows them to easily integrate all kinds of other people’s products–free curricula, products developed by teachers themselves–to create a classroom learning experience that is digital first and scalable to reach the entire need of the day or the week or the semester.

When we buy companies like LearnZillion or ATI the goal is to make it usable by all of our customers across all of our brands and we’re working hard on that.

You said LearnZillion is a crucial piece of Weld North’s overall vision. Is there a piece of the puzzle that is still missing? 

We are very interested in good digital curriculum. There is a shortage of it–it’s extremely expensive to make and it takes a long time. We have a number of gaps in our own digital library that we’ll use third party providers for in our LearnZillion model. But we would love to own our own brand. We are constantly looking for, and will continue to look for, curriculum companies that serve niches that we don’t serve well.

On the technology side, we’ve spent a lot of energy and money over the last two years and now we’re really building from it and I am confident we have what we need and we’ll be less active there.

Are there risks in acquiring so many companies so quickly?

Every deal has risks. It comes down to management. We buy companies with people who can work with our group and feel good about our mission. We spend a lot of time making sure there’s alignment of that. Cultural issues that have to be worked through.

Our balance sheet is very strong and we have much less debt than most people our size. In the partnership with Silver Lake, we have all the equity we need to support our goals. We’re funded in a super way to grow for the long term.

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