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Pearson Acquires Learning Catalytics, a Cloud-Based Assessment System

Pearson, the publishing and education giant, announced on Monday that it had acquired Learning Catalytics, a cloud-based assessment system created by three Harvard University educators.

The acquisition is the latest move by the company to extend its reach into college classrooms beyond just textbooks.

In the past two years, Pearson has spent more than $1-billion acquiring and investing in education companies. In 2011 the company released OpenClass, a cloud-based learning-management system. Last year it acquired EmbanetCompass, a company that provides online-learning services to nonprofit universities.

Pearson was interested in Learning Catalytics because of its ability to provide instant feedback to instructors as well as to help students engage more effectively with peers, said Paul Corey, Pearson’s president for science, business, and technology.

“We were attracted to its abilities to enable peer interaction and peer learning,” Mr. Corey said. “It has a very sophisticated level of peer matching to ensure productive pairing.”

Learning Catalytics was founded by Eric Mazur, Brian Lukoff, and Gary King in 2011 with the goal of improving interaction between students and instructors, as well as among students. When working in groups, pairs, or teams, students don’t always pick the most effective partners, said Mr. Mazur, a professor of physics and applied physics at Harvard. Learning Catalytics uses data-mining techniques to find the right partners for them, he said. It also provides instructors with real-time information about student learning on a graphical dashboard display.

In the last year or so, the start-up company has proved to be very popular, Mr. Mazur said. In fact, it was too popular for just three people to handle.

“We’ve gone through an incredibly fast exponential growth,” he said. “Pearson is going to make it possible to grow the user base at a rate we would not have been able to maintain.”

For now, expanding the number of users is the only concrete change Pearson expects to make in the system, Mr. Corey said. The company has no plans to change the system’s pricing, he said, and would be “very conscientious” about any other shifts in its affordability, such as by pairing it with Pearson textbooks.

Mr. Lukoff, a postdoctoral fellow in technology and education, has now joined Pearson, and Mr. Mazur and Mr. King, a professor of government, will remain involved with Learning Catalytics as consultants. Even so, Mr. Mazur said he does feel a little strange about the sudden growth and acquisition of the company he helped found.

“In many respects, it’s my brainchild,” he said. “Kind of overnight, I’ve been turned from a founder into a customer.”

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