Engaged students learn better and faster. They also tend to enjoy the process, making the instructor’s job easier as well.
Cengage Learning incorporated that concept in its name—“engage” is at the “center” of everything it does. The worldwide company provides educational content, technology, and services for higher education and K-12, changing the learning experience for students and professors alike.
CTO OR CIO, WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
“Both are critical roles within a company,” says George Moore, chief technology officer at Cengage Learning. “The CTO, who is responsible for all technical aspects, leads a team of engineers to create a better product and to continually enhance it, using newer and better technologies. The CIO integrates business and technology, delivering a service at the lowest possible cost and with the highest quality.”
At the center of this organization is chief technology officer George Moore, who has led the company in its transition from book publisher to content learning platform.
When Moore joined Cengage three years ago, the focus of the company was mainly on the professors’ needs. “The company saw the professor as the customer,” Moore says. “Instructors didn’t have time to correct homework, so there were websites for students to do their homework and have it automatically graded. The company was also publishing a lot of books, many about the same subject.”
Yet, when Moore’s team came along, they decided that their primary role would be to become facilitators between students and professors. “We understood that students were customers as well and spent a lot of time interviewing them to find out what they really needed,” he explains. “The result of these surveys was clear: they wanted better communication with their peers and professors, and to be able to learn in their own way.”
The feedback put the spotlight on the learning experience. As a result, Cengage Learning’s digital learning platform, MindTap, expanded and developed in a way that improved students’ engagement while also helping instructors to evaluate their progress in meaningful ways.
“MindTap became the center of the courses, a true digital classroom that helped both students and professors have better connectivity,” Moore says. “As a fully built course, it integrates homework with customized materials, reading sources, quizzes, and ways of interacting.”
During his three years at Cengage, Moore’s team has created MindTap products for more than 520 courses that cover more than fifty disciplines. Currently, MindTap has more than one million users and generates more than fifty percent of its revenue from online products.
As the company’s chief technology officer, Moore plays a key role in improving the way students learn their subjects, and at Cengage, special attention is devoted to the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.
“We understand that students learn math and chemistry in a different way than they learn languages,” Moore says. “In math, for example, they start with a problem. When they stumble, they look at the textbook, but they don’t read the book from beginning to end in order to solve the problem.”
Moore recognizes how students look for concepts from algebra or calculus that they are supposed to remember, but which aren’t necessarily part of the book. Therefore, the main focus of the company’s learning platforms is integrating all that knowledge so the students have easy access to it.
“One of our new initiatives is MindTap for Quantitative Studies, where we will have all the necessary content built in, in a way that students can navigate it easily,” Moore says.
In April 2015, Moore was honored as a top STEM leader by STEMconnector for his role in providing digital solutions to the challenges students meet when learning.
“I wish I had had a tool like MindTap when I was a student,” Moore says, laughing. “For instance, I learned how to program on my own, reading books and teaching myself, and I had to look for tutorials all over. The tools we have today help students gain knowledge faster, especially those who enjoy learning on their own.”
As for Moore, he’s always learning. In his role as a CTO, he is responsible for all technical aspects of the company. “It is all about building products and devising technical strategies,” he says. “Basically, we implement new technologies to improve the development of our products, and we come up with effective solutions to the problems we encounter. The more efficient you are as a CTO, the more problems you solve.”
Moore is also in charge of hiring new software engineers for Cengage. The company now has more than six thousand employees and more than 500 software engineers.
“When we hire new people, we always ask them three main questions: Why education? Why Cengage? Why now?” Moore says.
Cengage has the ability to get its product—its learning platform—in front of millions of students, according to Moore. “But the experience we offer them has to be exceptional,” he says. “So our people, all of us, sometimes work evenings and weekends. We are all committed to education, and the way our company has grown reflects that.”
Moore and his team are indeed shaping the classroom of the future. “The role of the instructor will remain the same: helping students learn basic concepts, be it personally or online,” Moore says. “But students who get stuck will have access to more resources, so they can approach problems from different angles. And that’s the role of technology—offering today’s learners the best tools they can have.”