With “Netflix for Education,” Cengage Hopes to Cut Costs, Improve Learning, and Increase Accessibility
Recently, Cengage made the news with their groundbreaking digital content platform, Cengage Unlimited, which gives students access to the full range of Cengage products for a subscription of $119 a semester.
But in a world where course materials are often printed, Googled, shared, or borrowed, can this new model really work? And if it does, how much money will students really be saving?
This year at the 2018 LearnLaunch conference, we had the chance to sit down with Cengage CTO George Moore, who was speaking at the event. In our interview, George not only discussed the topic of his panel, “How Can You Help Higher Ed Faculty Adopt Digital Instructional Tech?”, but also the ways in which Cengage is trying to innovate and open the doors to more learners with products like Cengage Unlimited.
Listen in to find out what George had to say about Cengage’s latest developments.
Play the podcast episode above, read the transcript below, or download it on iTunes to learn more.
Hannah Nyren: [00:00:00] Welcome to the EdTech Times podcast.
Hannah Nyren: [00:00:06] Hi. This is Hannah Nyren. And today I’m speaking with George Moore from Cengage.
Hannah Nyren: [00:00:10] How’s it going, George?
George Moore: [00:00:12] It’s great.
Hannah Nyren: [00:00:12] And we’re here at the LearnLaunch conference today, and you are speaking very soon. Bright and early in the morning. So, tell me a little bit about the panel you’re on and what you will be speaking about.
George Moore: [00:00:22] Yeah. I’m on a really interesting panel. And it’s…the focus is on, how do we help instructors bring technology into the classroom. As we really see, there’s students — from many surveys — students really want technology in the classroom. We see that technology really can help students prepare and get ready and meet their objectives. And professors say that they see technology really does make a big impact in the classroom.
George Moore: [00:00:46] At the same time, we see that there’s a lot of impediments to that. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
Hannah Nyren: [00:00:51] Right. And so what are a few of the — say three impediments — that people come across when trying to integrate technology into the classroom?
George Moore: [00:00:58] You know, I think that we are still in the early stages of technology becoming embedded in the classroom. And you know, we’re in the age of, things are simple. Things just happen to work. And unfortunately, some of the education technology isn’t that simple. And so I think the support structures around how to make technology seamless in the classroom are still coming up to speed. And so there’s a lot more handholding that needs to be done to get the instructors across that that chasm.
George Moore: [00:01:22] You know, we do a big survey with about 10,000 instructors every year. And for the last five years, consistently one of the biggest concerns they have in their classroom is looking silly or having trouble in front of their students. And so technology, unfortunately, is many times something that makes them feel that they’re in that position. Things have come so far, and we’re used to in the mainstream, some very simple technologies. Things should just work.
George Moore: [00:01:44] And in education, things are getting better and better and better. But from a user experience perspective, there is still a long way for all of us to go.
Hannah Nyren: [00:01:51] So what are a few things that Cengage is working on to improve education and make it more accessible for students?
George Moore: [00:01:57] So we’re doing many different things. And I think one area we’re really focusing on is what we call trust. And trust is exemplified in many different ways. So one is, making sure the content is right. Making sure it’s at the right level, making sure the quality of that content is a bar none. You can trust the content you’re using inside your classroom.
George Moore: [00:02:15] We’re also looking at the technology. The systems have to work. This is like a dial tone of a phone. No one picks up a phone wondering if I’ll be able to make a call. They just expect it to work. And technology is now playing such a key role in so many classes that it has to be just like that. You can’t think, “Gee, I wonder if it’s working now.” You have to just expect it’s always going to work and not have any questions. We’re putting a lot of investment on really trying to work on that.
George Moore: [00:02:38] Another area in trust is services. So we have a huge services organization that helps bridge the gap. If you’re ready to embrace technology in your classroom, but not sure how to get started… we’ll help you through it we’ll walk you through how to do that yourself.
George Moore: [00:03:05] On the affordability side, we just launched something called Cengage Unlimited. And the big thing that we have noticed is, so many students are coming to class unprepared, that they are now going into class and saying, you know, I know the professor said that this textbook is required. I know that this homework or online solution is required as part of the work, but it’s really expensive and I’m not sure they’ll use it. So let me go to class for a few weeks and see if they’re going to use or not, and make my decision at that point.
George Moore: [00:03:32] What we’ve seen is those students now get behind. And they’re not prepared. And now they’re trying to catch up when they get through that process. And the big number that really hit us is that 70 percent of all community college students — their course materials were about 45 percent of their overall costs for school. Which is just out of control. That’s a number that just doesn’t make any sense. And that’s why we’re seeing the behavior we’re seeing.
George Moore: [00:03:54] So we completely turned kind of the whole business model on its head. And what we decided is, really let’s set the price of what the content should cost. And so we’ve released Cengage Unlimited, which is full access to everything Cengage offers — over 20,000 books. All of our digital course material. All of our homework solutions— WebAssign MindTap, Sam— all of that for 119 dollars a semester or a hundred and seventy nine dollars a year.
George Moore: [00:04:17] And it really is, we call it — you know, many people are calling it the Netflix of education. And that’s what we want to do.
Hannah Nyren: [00:04:27] And tell me a little bit about the price point of this product. How does that compare to what students are spending regularly on textbooks, or what they’ve spent in the past?
George Moore: [00:04:37] Yeah, there’s a lot of industry data that says the students are paying about five hundred dollars a semester for the materials they need. But that is how much they pay. And it’s usually not to one person. And many times it’s cobbling it together, it’s the photocopying costs, to photocopy a book. It’s the used book cost. They’re cobbling together an experience to get what they need for the cheapest price they can and that’s averaging about five hundred dollars. So for us, it’s $119. It’s everything. And it’s not about which of course you adopted. You don’t have to deal with course keys you don’t have to worry about umm, Did this code get used before? And all of the hurdles that were in place in the old model. It’s just access. This is what you need. And I think we’ve seen the same type of business model work in many other industries.
Hannah Nyren: [00:05:16] Well, I can’t wait to see what happens with that. Is there anything else that you all are working on right now that’s new, innovative?
George Moore: [00:05:23] We’re doing a lot in the area of personalization, and how our digital materials are going to become much more engaging for our students. So, you know we’ve I I think the industry has gone through lots of fits and starts on what a digital experience is all about. And so, you know, our kind of core tenets are: we need to focus on quality of the content. We can never diminish that. We need to work on the reliability of the systems and make sure they’re always there.
George Moore: [00:05:49] And now when we get into the features, we’re looking at it from a few different perspectives. One area we’re looking at is this idea that we change the content every four years is kind of an old way of thinking of things. Now we’re starting to think about how can we have the content always be updated always be fresh and get away from the idea of additions and more about just fresh content and have all the right information at the right time.
George Moore: [00:06:33] And so what we’re really focusing on is so how do you do that and how do you put it into the workflow that is a workflow that’s working. So if I’m a you know instructor who’s worried about how I’m going to look in front of the class and make sure that I’m prepared for that class then I can’t have the content change overnight. And I come in in the morning and the examples have changed and I don’t understand that. So we’re putting a lot of work into how we can have content always be updated but allow the instructors to control how those updates flow into their cut classes.
Hannah Nyren: [00:07:00] So what would you like to see for the future of education. I asked this question a lot, but it’s always different depending on what time of year it is what’s coming out. So what do you think the next big thing in edtech is?
George Moore: [00:07:12] I think these pricing models are big, and I think there’s a lot of technology that goes behind those pricing models. But I think the idea that affordability is on everybody’s mind, it doesn’t matter where it is. And I think technology can really play a huge part in affordability. So I think I’d like to see more companies, more of the edtech groups, to really get behind this idea that we can’t charge for every every interaction but we have to talk about more of a subscription more of it a holistic experience.
George Moore: [00:07:37] I have a sixth grader who loves music. And who I was talking to the other day about the CD collection I had in the basement in boxes that we haven’t opened. And she’s talking about like, “What is this?” And “I don’t understand.” And I had to walk her through, well, we used to buy a whole lot of songs at the same time. And then I talked about Apple and how you then move to 99 cents. And she’s like yeah, but why don’t you just go to Spotify and just pick what you want to listen to?” And I’m like, “Yeah, I know that sounds like it makes a lot of sense.
George Moore: [00:08:02] So I think as we look at this and we can leverage technology around this affordability space we all have to rethink about how we go to market how we engage with our students and just how many edtech companies need a viable business model to go forward but you really need to rethink that business model and how to apply it to the 21st century.
Hannah Nyren: [00:08:18] Well thanks for speaking with me, George. It’s been great.
George Moore: [00:08:21] Great. Thank you.
Hannah Nyren is the General Manager of EdTech Times. A Texan by birth but a Bostonian at heart, Hannah is an educational writer, AmeriCorps alum, and one-time StartupWeekend EDU (SWEDU) winning team member. She started her career at a Pearson-incubated edtech startup, but has since covered travel, food & culture, and even stonemasonry in addition to education.