Denver: When there is a discussion of how entire industries have been disrupted and radically altered, one that often doesn’t get included in that conversation is education. In fact, some fret that our classrooms and the way teaching and learning are conducted are quite similar to the way it was done 50, even 100 years ago. But in actuality, things are changing, and quite dramatically, and there is no one more on the cutting edge of that change and transformation than McGraw-Hill Education. And it is a great pleasure for me to welcome to the show their President and CEO, David Levin. Good evening, David, and thanks for coming in!
David: Denver, thank you very much.
Denver: You know there have been some significant changes in the ownership and management of McGraw-Hill over the last several years that everyone may not be familiar with. So let’s begin by having you tell us what they have been, and precisely who is McGraw-Hill Education.
David: So I think the story really begins just over three years ago. In 2012, the investors in what was McGraw-Hill, a very old, established company– a 128-year-old company– said that the education business was passé, and the board decided to sell it. It was considered, frankly, a bit of a basket case, and the company was put up to bid. A third-party bought it; an investor group bought it. And that really provoked an opportunity to rebirth the whole company. So, we’re now a completely stand-alone, focused-only-on-education business, completely independent and separately-owned. Nothing to do with the other company, which is actually now called Standard & Poor’s. We’re just McGraw-Hill Education.
Denver: Very interesting. Well, tell us a little bit about that company, what you do, how it works, and the educational experience you’re trying to create for today’s student.
David: Well, as you’ve correctly said, the world of education has been… not quite in aspic… but very, very slow in evolving. And that’s not for lack of trying; it’s because it’s complex to change education. Parents themselves are not that keen necessarily for their children to have something radically different. So, there’s an innate sort of conservatism (with a small “c”) around how we do this. And, of course, you only get one shot at fifth grade, so having somebody gleefully tell you they’re about to experiment with your child is not going to promote a great teacher-parent dialogue.
Denver: Great point.
David: People want confidence as they go into this. We’ve embarked on this very much saying, “Look, we can see that there is a whole range of things which can come.” And in the last few years, we’ve put a lot of energy and effort into: How do we create a software that supports learners and educators? And the educator’s bit is very important, and I know we’ll come back to that.
If we think about the way that people learn: people learn by trying things, by experimenting with things, and by actually trying and failing. Much of the education system is unfortunately aligned so that people are too scared to fail.
But to an educator, the understanding of where somebody is struggling in a very specific way… not they’re struggling with this concept as a whole, but here’s the individual step in the maze where they keep stumbling… allows the teacher who’s great to intervene and make a difference.
Denver: What does this software do? One thing that I understand, David, is that it creates feedback. So how does that feedback work for the student? And how does that feedback work for the teacher?
David: That’s the key point. If we think about the way that people learn: people learn by trying things, by experimenting with things, and by actually trying and failing. Much of the education system is unfortunately aligned so that people are too scared to fail. You only need to think about the big summative assessments, the end of period tests that people do. It’s victory or death.