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Karine Allouche Salanon, CEO, Pearson English Business Solutions

Karine Allouche Salanon says online learning is a redundant term given we live in a “digitally-enabled” world now. She speaks with The PIE about her insight into edtech and her role as CEO of Pearson English Business Solutions.

The PIE: So what services do you offer at Pearson English Business Solutions?

"If you have a peer group, you'll be motivated to go, you put pressure on yourself, 20 minutes before the session, you'll do everything you needed to do"

KAS: What we do is to enable Fortune 2000 companies that are global to ensure their talent can operate, communicate and collaborate in English. So we work with them in partnership across the talent management ecosystem, from recruitment onwards. When there is a talent gap, we fix that gap with different learning modalities for the employees, through virtual classrooms, or executive coaching. The solution we recommend will depend on how fast, or what type of outcomes they’re expecting from the learning.

The PIE: And you said that the English training delivered is 90% online?

KAS: Yes, we have about 90% of our business online because that was really the core of the company. We diversified our offering adding human coaching in recent years and saw a great impact.

“We’ve started to blend everything we do, just with different levels of touch”

About two months ago, we inserted a virtual advisor to a bundle with all online services and we have enrolled 5,000 new learners in two months now with advisors. We’ve started to blend everything we do, just with different levels of touch.

The PIE: So that means they have some face-to-face interaction?

KAS: Yes, through a screen. But it’s still a human dimension which is very important. The human interaction is so important in everything we do.

The PIE: How big is your division? How many people are you helping train?

KAS: So we train about 200,000 learners. We have about 450 multinational companies as customers.

The PIE: Is there a plan to roll the service out to smaller companies as well?

KAS: It is part of the plan, but right now, the companies that are really investing are global. They have international operations and prioritise being able to innovate and communicate across borders, getting their teams all across the world to work effectively together.

The PIE: So that’s the main need? Business competency around English?

KAS: That’s the main product but it’s less about English proficiency alone; it’s about being able to do your job in English: we really focus on whatever skills you need to have. Which could be presenting, negotiating in English, being able to participate in a meeting.

“I want my employees to spend less time on training and more time being able to actively implement what they know”

We are looking at how we integrate with companies’ talent management ecosystems. European people spend a lot of hours doing training and as CEO of a company, I want my employees to spend less time on training and more time being able to actively implement what they know! So we are looking at how we can optimize our product and have outcomes that are focused on particular areas.

The PIE: Have you done one of your courses?

KAS: Yes, I actually have a coach. I’m using our products!

The PIE: What would you say the best thing about it is, if you could define the best, most useful aspect of it?

KAS: The most useful aspect for me was the human interaction with the coach, and the ability for him to work with me on topics I cared about. It’s almost a personalisation of the learning that was most important to me.

The PIE: You also mentioned earlier the importance of peer to peer learning.

KAS: Yes. In our platform we have something called ‘One Community’ which is a place where you can post your questions to anybody within the group. The other thing we introduced last year was the virtual classroom where you can learn alongside your peer group.

“In creating those virtual classrooms, of peers the same level as you, we leverage this sort of social pressure”

It’s like going to the gym with a girlfriend, versus going on your own. If you have a peer group, you’ll be motivated to go, you put pressure on yourself, 20 minutes before the session, you’ll do everything you needed to do. In creating those virtual classrooms, of peers the same level as you, we leverage this sort of social pressure, and social environment, to keep thinking on how we can bring more value to the learners.

The PIE: What about countries where there’s particular demand for your services? Are there hotspots or-

KAS: We look at countries in two ways, the first is learner, and the second is buyer. The learner countries have stayed more or less the same for the five years, so China, India, Japan, and Latin America, are always in the top five. And then there’s a few European countries.

The buyer market, which has been very historically US-centric – because a lot of multinational companies are from the US – is evolving, with more Chinese, Japanese, and Indian companies heavily investing outside their own country.

The PIE: And how do you see online learning evolving?

KAS: I think it can evolve in a few places. The first way is that ‘online’ is not going to be the word anymore, because our life is already online, it’s “digitally enabled”. Because it’s a mix of what you have in the cloud and what you do everyday, in your real life – and how you combine those. That’s why mobile is so important.

The second is how we see Oculus or other technology innovations developing, and how this virtual world is going to be something that we use to create educational experiences or practices.

“From a policy perspective, I think governments have a role to play in terms of centralising some of these strategic initiatives for schools”

And thirdly, how are we going to put the practical into the digital world? When you imagine STEM curriculums, the key thing is practice. The cost of building labs and equipping them can make it difficult for universities to keep up with the investment needed. Now, you can evolve a virtual environment much faster which may eventually rival real-time practice.

The PIE: Do you think we are at the tipping point, or that we are going to get to a tipping point? When adaptation to and acceptance of digitally-enabled education will be completely natural. Because I don’t think it is yet.

KAS: I don’t think it is yet, and I think it’s going to take time. And as with any new trend, you’re going to have early adopters. I still think we are in the early adopters stage within academia.

For corporates, the train has been gone now for a long time. Here it’s about the speed with which edtech is going to penetrate their organization and what corporates want to offer to their people.

As regards academia, the first thing is, if we are just looking at the schools in the Western world, there’s caution from some, which can slow progress. The second thing is the distribution channel, which is mostly decentralized, so it makes it more difficult to penetrate. From a policy perspective, I think governments have a role to play in terms of centralising some of these strategic initiatives for schools.

“Outside of the Western world, it’s really about accessibility”

And third, outside of the Western world, it’s really about accessibility. And we don’t have accessibility everywhere. I think the Gates Foundation is doing a fabulous job in that area. But, there is so much more out there.

In countries where mobile phones are mostly used, in some emerging countries, I think we see one of those opportunities where digitalisation of content is going to be adopted just because there’s nothing else right now.

So, that’s really where we have three great opportunities, and the one that seems to move the most slowly is our current systems in the Western world. Policy has got to be an important piece too.

The PIE: That’s fascinating! Thank you so much for your insight.

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