Publishing giant makes $400M commitment to ed tech

HMH says it's putting out a call to action to the industry to speed up digital learning in the classroom.
HMH says it's putting out a call to action to speed up digital learning in the classroom.

Educational publishing giant Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) is making a $400 million investment to back up the company’s increasing emphasis on putting more technology into classrooms. The reason, HMH says, is because it no longer accepts the status quo in public education.

“We are living in challenging times—but the challenge of fixing public education is one challenge we simply have to meet,” said company CEO Barry O’Callaghan in an interview with eSchool News. “We need to bear down on what works in the classroom and provide schools and teachers with the tools and resources they need to be effective. Then we need to assess progress, measure results, and do what works best for each child.”

The investment, announced Sept. 13, includes $100 million in incubator money for education technology that supports student achievement. Through this new Innovation Fund, HMH will provide capital and product expertise to budding educational entrepreneurs.

The Boston-based company also plans to invest $300 million over the next three years developing its own education technology, such as a pilot algebra application for the Apple iPad currently being tested by 400 California students.

According to O’Callaghan, though HMH has the knowledge and technology to improve teaching and learning environments, to really effect change, “we need to see all the players with a stake in the school system—administrators, teachers, parents, community organizations, and the private sector—working together to advance the interests of the students.”

HMH sees its Innovation Fund as part of a call to action to the industry to speed up digital learning in the classroom.

Looking for ideas

With $100 million, the HMH Innovation Fund will seek out, select, fund, and execute ed-tech ideas—submitted by those in the education and technology industries—that can help to engage teachers, administrators, parents, and students in learning.

The fund also will look to support new consumer applications, including gaming platforms and other interactive solutions, to engage students outside the classroom.

“The HMH Innovation Fund is a first for our industry, providing the capital to identify and incubate the next generation of innovation in education,” said O’Callaghan. “HMH will work with … and fund the innovators of today and support great ideas that will have an immediate impact in promoting greater student achievement with tools that can be used both inside and outside the classroom.”

While all ideas are appreciated, O’Callaghan said, those focusing on how to personalize learning are particularly appreciated.

“This is a challenge well worth taking on,” he said, “because if we can address the particular learning needs and styles of each child, we can support a teacher in helping that child advance where he or she needs extra support and to achieve to his or her full potential. And innovative content, approaches, and technology are what can bring this to life.”

He continued: “With individualized learning solutions, we are able to provide teachers with quick access to students’ assessment results and prospective lesson plans to more accurately identify strengths and weaknesses and plan teaching strategies. Parents also can be added into the system to track their children’s progress, print additional worksheets, and view cumulative test results for a teacher’s entire class.”

In the coming weeks, HMH will formally unveil the process and requirements for submitting concepts, including a dedicated online site for submitting ideas.

The fund will aim to infuse capital into worthy projects and expedite the development of ed-tech solutions to fill market needs quickly, said HMH. Investments might range from products or services for students and teachers, to product or process enhancements, to consumer-focused education products that the company can deliver broadly through its education or trade businesses.

Internal development

HMH will invest another $300 million in-house, by creating what the company calls “innovation centers” in the U.S. and Dublin, Ireland.

Within these research centers, O’Callaghan said, HMH is focused on developing new education technology products ranging from virtual and online learning tools, to digital supplemental content to help students, teachers, and parents extend existing curriculum, to emerging growth areas such as education gaming and mobile application development.

The teams already have created two pilot programs based on new technologies:

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