Pearson Releases Rights to its Learning Design Principles

Editorial Intern

As part of a company-wide push for transparency in evaluating the efficacy of their products, executives at a major education corporation have publicly released the learning design principles that inform the creation of those educational products.

Pearson, a London-based educational multinational, announced in 2013 that it would begin issuing public audits of it’s products’ efficacy and financials in an effort to promote accountability by 2018.

That effort, which the company says is still on target, is buoyed by last month’s news—the release of what Pearson says are its research-backed learning design principles. These are meant to give outsiders an understanding of what guides the company’s development and effectiveness evaluations of products like its REVEL courseware.

“You can’t measure something that doesn’t have a strong set of definitions,” said Curtiss Barnes, a Pearson executive who directs product management and design for the company, in a phone interview.

The hope, he said, is that a new “common vernacular” takes root in the industry allowing for educators, researchers and vendors to more easily make “apples-to-apples” comparisons of learning science claims.

The learning principles released by Pearson describe in detail how research should be applied in crafting user experience for “concepts like critical thinking, moving to mastery, and the role of student peers and collaboration,” Barnes said.

In addition to the meat of the release, a large pdf composed of the research and rubrics the company uses, Pearson also issued a shorter report on how the company says it is “Using Learning Design to Build More Effective Engaging Products” and a promotional blog post.

The release was met with measured praise from members of the e-learning community.

Some questioned the release of the principles in pdf form, making them harder to copy and reuse. The company said it planned rerelease the file in a more flexible format later this month.

Art Graesser, a psychology professor and learning science expert at University of Memphis, said he “enthusiastically endorsed” the broad strokes of Pearson’s moves to incorporate learning science into their product development and evaluation. “It’s the right direction to go.”

Graesser, who is also affiliated with University of Oxford, did find some of the scholarship underpinning the learning design principles to be somewhat dated—particularly in light of some of the developments in adaptive learning research.

Specifically, he said he was disappointed that Pearson’s learning principles didn’t reflect the latest in intelligent tutoring systems, collaborative problem-solving, automated essay-grading and mobile technology.

Others have doubted Pearson’s motives, wondering why the for-profit company would release what it says is the product of an ongoing and lengthy synthesis of its learning science research and data.

“This is a space we should all move away from being proprietary,” said Barnes. For Pearson to create value to its customers and shareholders from “an industry and ethos perspective,” the company feels the more rigorous benchmarks help them clarify “what that value created by the company is,” he said.


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One thought on “Pearson Releases Rights to its Learning Design Principles

  1. Here is a sample rubric for evaluating how well a particular piece of educational material uses modern design principles: 4-5 points Strong application of the taxonomy of visual effectiveness. 2-3 points Some application of the taxonomy of visual effectiveness. 1 point Poor application of the taxonomy of visual effectiveness. Note that this rubric provides almost no guidance for someone trying to assess whether a page actually uses these design principles. If in perusing the Pearson document, you get the feeling you have read a phrase before, note that the document has more than 30 pages with an average of 11 nearly-identical phrase trios that begin with “strong,” “some,” and “poor.” Near the end of this merciless bludgeoning with basically useless redundancy, I was simply lucky to retain enough lucidity to see the irony in this one: 4-5 points Strong use of simplification to reduce distraction and improve clarity 2-3 points Some use of simplification . . . [you get the idea.] Seriously, had Pearson followed their own design specs, they could at least have cut the verbiage dramatically by writing: Applying the taxonomy of visual effectiveness – circle: strong, some, none That still would have provided little guidance for authors, reviewers, assessment writers, or administrators, but at least it would have wasted much less of their time. As someone who makes a living by reviewing research and trying to summarize it, I would have really appreciated a thoughtful review of relevant research, followed by construction of appropriate rubrics for evaluating the application of that research. Pearson, please do the job you claim to be doing!

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