Sharpening Minds

Cengage Learning Australia

Indeed, why not ask the people who work behind the scenes for their opinion? At Cengage Learning Australia, the Vice President of Higher Education, Paul Petrulis and Vice President of School Division, David O’Brien have some interesting points of view that may make some people rethink their positions on the matter.

“We don’t produce widgets; all our people are passionate and revere not just the products and their quality, but what they do to improve people’s lives,” says Mr Petrulis. Cengage publishes innovative print and digital teaching and learning resources for school, higher education, vocational, professional and ELT educational sectors.

Modern Thinking

Cengage Learning Australia was created in 2007 and is a pure play education business located in South Melbourne, Victoria. The business has a strong commitment to furthering the progress of Australian education, and publishes a range of teaching and learning resources across a number of diverse platforms. While Cengage is embracing the trend for digital resources with up-to-the-minute solutions like GALE, MindTap and iBooks Textbooks, the company has not lost sight of the value of traditional activity sheets and textbooks.

Cengage is the sole owner of GALE, a library reference and research arm which sells content to general businesses, libraries, schools and universities. GALE is a tremendous source of information, with large data archives in the millions of pages. This major information hub comprises 600 databases containing e-books, magazines, journals and newspapers and almost everything is digitalised. GALE also creates services for organisations to aggregate, and customers can buy subscriptions to various product lines to get the most current information.

Cengage has been quick to embrace digital learning and adapt it to suit the needs of the customer and user. MindTap is an ingenious online learning product from Cengage that is set to revolutionise the way people think about digital learning. It is a cloud based technology solution that can be customised to suit the user, giving online learning the human touch. MindTap creates a highly personalised learning experience and puts information at the click of a mouse. “It combines our traditional reading content and multimedia like films and animations with our activities such as quizzes, multiple choice tests and assessments into a very simple, singular learning path.”

Apple technology has the whole world talking and Cengage is pleased to have recently released history and maths iBooks Textbooks for secondary schools. The proprietary Apple software was released in the US last year. “It’s one of a number of platforms we utilise but it’s an interesting one,” remarks Mr O’Brien. “It’s too early to know exactly how well it’s been received because the inaugural release time set by Apple was after the main school buying season had closed, so it will be the next six to eight months which will showcase how well it’s doing.”

Powerful Print

Over the past few decades, technology has certainly had a significant impact on teaching, not just in Australian schools but globally. While Cengage has some impressive digitalised teaching and learning resources like GALE, MindTap and iBooks Textbooks, some subjects are still simply better on paper. As such, traditional print teaching aids like activity sheets and textbooks are still the core business at Cengage. “PMs in Primary is absolutely our most popular and respected literacy series; we have over a thousand titles in that meticulously levelled guided reading series,” explains Mr O’Brien.

While children and teenagers often adapt to new technology quicker than their teachers do, when it comes to studying, not everyone is ditching the pen and textbook just yet. Mr Petrulis says that when given the option of purchasing textbooks electronically, the majority of students currently opt for print and there are many reasons why. Students can drop textbooks multiple times without anything shattering; no web connection is necessary to use a textbook; textbooks do not catch viruses or crash like computers sometimes do; a textbook never needs a web connection or to be recharged. The trend to digital is definitely growing in education but at varied rates of uptake across subjects and sectors.

Then there is the issue of cost. Realistically, how many public schools can afford to be constantly upgrading to the latest electronic device? What about students attending remote schools that do not necessarily have the same access to internet connectivity as their city counterparts? “The government has a responsibility to ensure that a child in a remote school has the same access to digital learning as a child in a metropolitan school.”

Activity sheets and textbooks are likely to be phased out over time although Mr O’Brien reports that with primary level literacy, it is a relatively slow process. “They do get old in terms of the pictorial look or the non fiction component of them,” he says. While the images start to look a little bit dated after a while, the obvious elements of the content and its underlying pedagogy do not really change. In secondary school, Cengage phases out material with greater frequency than in primary and there is a new national curriculum currently being rolled out. In the higher education space, particularly in rapidly evolving areas like business, IT and medicine, most products require updating every two to three years.

Blended Future

Judging from newspaper and television news reports, digital teaching and learning resources are superior compared to print materials. People are sometimes misled into thinking that digitalised teaching aids provide the complete education solution and that textbooks cannot compare. According to the hype, print newspapers should have been obsolete five years ago, yet they are still rolling hot off the press every day.

Kindergarten teachers are now reporting that there are students who know how to use an iPad and iPhone while others are still learning the alphabet. “It’s an interesting observation,” comments Mr O’Brien. “There’s the tongue-in-cheek line about what does a three year old think a magazine is, and that’s an iPad that doesn’t work.” In some cases, primary school students may even become addicted to new digital resources. “Worldwide I think South Korea was the fastest to put digital devices in primary schools and they’re actually now taking a lot of them out. And they’re removing them because the kids are getting too addicted to games and the internet and are their losing their need and ability to imagine. The role of imagination in a child’s formative years is subtle but hugely important.”

Mr Petrulis and Mr O’Brien believe in the potential of digital learning in Australian schools and say that it will drive growth for Cengage. They do highlight the need for balance and agree that digital resources are not a one-size-fits-all solution. Teaching and learning resources must first be pedagogically sound and not just digital for the sake of it. “Digital works extremely well in a number of wonderful ways,” acknowledges Mr O’Brien. “Textbooks and printed materials also have their place. I think education will morph more and more to digital platforms but I don’t think it will be the death knell of everything in print.”

While a gradual evolution toward digital resources is underway, Mr Petrulis believes that print still has a future in Australia. The current industry focus is on blended learning, which enables students to have the best of both worlds. The team at Cengage is working to bring exceptional teaching and learning resources to the marketplace, tailored to meet the needs of Australian teachers and students. “We understand how teachers teach and how students learn.”

Cengage is in fact reinvesting in its most popular products and seeking new opportunities for growth and innovation. “Our vision is to be culturally specific and publish resources that will support the local Australian market,” says Mr Petrulis. “I think that it’s very important we have an Australian voice in our products and that we are not overshadowed by products from the UK and US as a primary influence of our learning.” While only time will tell what teaching and learning aids will look like a decade from now, Cengage Learning Australia is certain to be at the forefront of the industry, publishing brilliant print and digital content that educates and inspires young minds.

Making Sense of Management

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June 22, 2018, 5:24 PM AEST