Pearson eCollege: Building an Education Platform with APIs
As a unit of the U.K.'s Pearson Plc, the world's largest education and book publishing company, Pearson eCollege creates, services, and powers a wide range of online learning distance learning programs. It does so via its scalable SaaS learning platform LearningStudio and OpenClass, a cloud-based learning environment and content distribution platform.
The Pearson eCollege overarching goal is to participate fully in the revolution of education. They envision a new experience for learners, where the education environment adapts to the needs of the individual learner in real time.
Challenges & opportunities
The vision comes to life as a platform approach through which Pearson and its partners can mashup Pearson’s and their own services with those from multiple companies and resources. The platform enables the data to flow back to Pearson where they analyze it to understand the efficacy of educational programs tailored to the individual student.
After receiving customer feedback from consumers to make LearningStudio more flexible, Pearson eCollege turned to APIs to open up and extend their services to a broader community of innovators—internal, partner, and external. eCollege started their API journey by using APIs purely as a way to retain customers and subsequently bolted a few APIs onto the LearningStudio product. While this drove adoption for about six months, eCollege soon found that 70 percent of time spent by the product development teams went to supporting the APIs as opposed to improving existing or building new product capabilities for customers.
In one case a client who averaged 4 million transactions per day jumped unexpectedly to 4 million transactions in under an hour while testing a beta product built on the LearningStudio APIs, ultimately bringing down eCollege’s production servers.
At the same time, Pearson’s Future Technologies division, a group focused on bringing new digital technologies and innovations into Pearson, made its first foray into APIs through the Plug & Play platform–an open API platform built on Apigee, whose purpose was to drive both internal and external developer innovation using Pearson APIs. Through this division, eCollege was introduced to Apigee.
The eCollege and Future Technologies API programs resulted in Pearson’s first comprehensive and current API strategy – an internal PaaS that serves as the technology backbone for Pearson’s Higher Education division with the goal to:
- streamline integration across silos
- simplify partner integration
- enable modern access to back-end systems for greater agility
- establish ecosystem for building and establishing apps that can be rapidly deployed
Pearson eCollege runs 40 LearningStudio APIs as well as all internal calls through Apigee Edge via a cloud deployment with 11 million transactions per day.
eCollege also manages its network of apps and developers through the Pearson Developer Network — a developer portal built on Apigee Edge.
While Pearson initially turned to Apigee to mediate some of eCollege’s initial technical challenges, the partnership quickly grew to a strategic level.
“Apigee has served as both technology provider and API consultant throughout the process and Apigee Edge is a critical piece in the delivery of these services. What was critical for us, however, was having Apigee come in and paint the landscape of APIs, but not from a technology perspective, and not from an Apigee perspective, but simply, ‘this is how you leverage APIs’,” said Allen Rodgers, director of eCollege’s API program and developer network.
Through working with Apigee as both a strategic partner and technology provider, Pearson has been able to grow its ecosystem to over 40 APIs, 250 applications and 3000 developers, and more than 10 universities, reaching hundreds of thousands students.
eCollege is truly able to put the Learner first through events like the Pearson Student Coding Contest where students from around the US built applications on top of the LearningStudio APIs—advancing their own ideas on education through the student lens, while also extending Pearson’s network of students, developers, and applications.
Today, ten of Pearson’s major enterprise clients have adopted LearningStudio’s Web Services On Demand program, which was designed to enable clients, third parties, and other development organizations to leverage the LearningStudio API platform to build new applications, develop rich user experiences, add new functionality, and integrate more quickly with third-party applications. One client already has 60 percent of its students accessing content through mobile apps based on LearningStudio APIs.
Digital-first corporate culture
Beyond the technology benefits, eCollege’s and Future Technologies’ API efforts are effectively changing corporate culture. “People are circling around and trying to get an understanding of APIs. And in that process, we are changing the DNA of our company,” said Allen Rodgers.