Pearson’s strategy pays off as Covid-19 accelerates online learning

LONDON: The outgoing boss of Pearson hailed the success on Wednesday of his lengthy and often painful battle to rebuild the education group for a digital generation after Covid-19 accelerated the switch to online learning.

John Fallon, who issued a string of profit warnings as students moved from expensive textbooks to digital learning, said the company would not have been able to cope with the rapid shift online during the pandemic had it not previously prepared.

The group’s performance was boosted by a 32% jump in global online learning in its third quarter.

“The last few years have been hard for our shareholders and everybody involved but we have stayed true to our purpose,” he told reporters. “The future of learning is digital and as you can see from these trends, Pearson is going to play a very very big part in it.” Pearson’s shares rose 3% in early trading.

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Pearson’s chairman needs more lessons on how to say ‘no’

A while ago, Lombard likened Pearson to Philip Larkin’s description of a good book — “a beginning, a muddle and an end”. John Fallon will reach his end as chief executive this week. But he leaves the business still in a muddle and its chairman Sidney Taurel right in the middle. And it is still not clear that Pearson has good tale to tell.

Mr Fallon presided over seven profit warnings during the seven years he was chief executive. And Mr Taurel, recruited in 2016, was there for at least four of them. 

Mr Fallon’s plan was to turn the media and publishing conglomerate into a focused online education business, selling off the Financial Times among other assets. That has done a lot to strengthen Pearson’s balance sheet but little else.

The past five years have been marked by disappointments, poor sales growth and erosion in margins and market share

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