McGraw Hill’s Digital Learning Tools See Strong International Uptake

In News by Porter Anderson

Some 15 percent of the 5.9 million activations of the McGraw Hill Connect educational platform in 2020 were outside the United States, according to the company.

A promotional shot of the Connect platform in use. Image: McGraw Hill

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

McGraw Hill’s Connect Platform: 75 Nations
Some of our readers will be aware that the New York-based educational publishing company McGraw Hill has reported a good fiscal third quarter. And some 64 percent of its growth is said to have been accounted for by digital products.

That in itself is no surprise, as many digital education programs have fared well during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, publishers ramping up services to take advantage of the need for learning outside the classroom. Needless to say, there’s a growing backlash in many markets against at-home rather than in-person schooling as the pandemic wears on, but in many ways, educational publishers’ quick and nimble adaptations to the broadening needs have in many cases provided some of the best alternatives available.

The majority of work in the field at McGraw-Hill is United States-focused, although its chief competitors—among them Pearson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Wiley, and Elsevier—certainly have varying degrees of international reach.

As it turns out, when looking at the 5.9 million activations of its educational Connect platform last year, McGraw Hill saw some 15 percent of those connections coming in from non-US markets.

The pandemic has offered enhanced international opportunities for book publishing at many levels, something inevitably remarked on, for example, by those who are announcing a digital event rather than its usual in-person counterpart. Suddenly, a lecture, a reading, a meeting, a conference, a rights-sales presentation, or one of the industry’s seemingly daily awards program events is available across borders and time zones.

We’ve had an exchange with Anthony Lorin in London, president of the international division of McGraw Hill, a role he stepped into at quite a moment: May 2020.

Not only was the SARS-CoV-2 virus asserting itself with real force—the Chinese book market’s Q1 report showed sales plunging 60 percent—but publishers, educators, parents, and students were scrambling to find their footing in digital alternatives to the classic classroom. And Cengage, another major force in digital educational publishing, was announcing that after a year of effort, its merger agreement with McGraw Hill had been terminated “by mutual agreement due to a prolonged regulatory review process and the inability to agree to a divestitures package with the US Department of Justice.” A busy month.

Lorin leads the company’s business in the K-12 and higher education markets outside the States. In one way or another, those products and/or services reach what the company says is more than 100 markets and more than 75 languages in the Americas, the Asian-Pacific, Europe, India, and the Middle East.

He moved into the leadership of the international group after working as its COO and CFO and has lived and worked in Asia, Australia, and Europe and starting with the company in 2012 as CFO for the Asian-Pacific region.

We begin our exchange by asking him to give us a brief idea of McGraw Hill’s Connect platform, since it’s most intensely used in the States.

Anthony Lorin

Anthony Lorin: McGraw Hill’s Connect platform is a learning environment for Higher Education students and instructors offering content and tools, across hundreds of subject areas. It can be used to support ongoing learning through digital access to textbooks, personalized and adaptive learning tools, simulations and more. It allows instructors to set assignments and homework, as well as to run exams remotely or in person.

Connect includes tools to analyze, understand and support student performance at a class or individual level, and tailor teaching accordingly. It plugs into most common learning management systems used in universities and colleges, providing seamless integration with our customers’ existing systems. It’s a proven product, having been in the market since 2009, but we’ve continued to update and adapt the platform since then in response to the changing needs of educators and students, and of course updating our content and programs along with this.

Publishing Perspectives: Has the Connect service been internationally available from the beginning or did this follow the US launch?

AL:  While Connect has been available internationally for many years, we’ve been adding additional courses tailored to the needs of regional markets around the world on a continual basis.

PP: Where is it available in the world and how is it offered in various languages?

AL: Connect is used by institutions in 75 countries around the world from Australia to Canada, and many countries in between. And while the platform itself is in English for now, we do offer local-language content and courses in Spanish and Italian.

PP: You’ve mentioned Canada and the Middle East. Where in in particular do you see strong uptake?

AL: Over the last decade, we’ve built up a loyal Connect customer base in every province in Canada, with most large higher education institutions having some courses which use the platform. While we provide Connect for English-language courses, we work with partners to publish select products for French-Canadian markets.

In the Middle East, we have customers across the entire region, with very significant usage in all the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries, as well as Egypt and Turkey.

Again, while we’ve been in the market there for many years, it’s really in the last five years that growth has taken off. This has been across traditional universities, applied universities such as the Higher Colleges of Technology in the United Arab Emirates, and innovative distance learning institutions (like Arab Open University).

PP: We all understand the flight to digital for educational resources in the pandemic, of course, but was the penetration in international markets reliant on the pressure of COVID-19, or was Connect already doing well in overseas spots?

Lorin: A Trend ‘Not Likely To Reverse’

A promotional shot of the Connect platform in use on a cellphone. Image: McGraw Hill

AL: We’ve seen consistent acceleration in Connect market penetration over the last few years, but it’s certainly true that the pandemic has accelerated growth in use of solutions like Connect in institutions that might have been on the slower side of digital adoption.

PP: What seems to be the strong suit in making it a success in non-American locales?

AL: The key reasons we think Connect is a success outside the US are seamless integration into universities’ technology environments; the breadth of programs offered to suit a wide range of higher education courses from trusted authors; and the richness of learning tools which have allowed students to learn effectively—from assessment to personalized learning tools to simulations.

PP: What’s the prognosis for this traction in a vaccinated future? Does growth continue or are these gains likely to subside?

AL: We believe that while the pandemic has driven customers toward implementing digital solutions which work in distance learning models out of necessity, it’s an acceleration of existing trends, and this is not something that’s likely to reverse.

Our customers have learned a huge amount about driving effective teaching and learning using digital tools over the last year. We expect that while face-to-face teaching will make a welcome and much-needed return, it will be very much part of a blended learning experience, with greater ongoing use of tools like Connect.

PP: And has the experience of the pandemic and the product’s performance overseas offered some lessons learned, good or challenging?

AL: We’ve had to continue to adapt to changing needs through the pandemic.

One example is that we created new courses—we call them Connect HeadStart—to address “learning loss” faced by first-year students coming into higher education settings, to ensure they’re ready to learn. These are students who may not have covered all the materials expected in their final year of school.

Many of our customers have asked us for support to transition courses to online models, so we’ve provided many of our staff with additional training and certification from the Online Learning Consortium over the last year.

And that’s the most important thing–it’s not just having the right technology or learning content, it’s having the people with the expertise to guide institutions and instructors through the last challenging few months which really makes the difference.

More from Publishing Perspectives on educational publishing is here, more from us on McGraw Hill and McGraw Hill Education is here, and more on digital publishing is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.