December 22, 2014

California State University partners with Pearson for system-wide online program

Listen with webReader

Campuses in the California State University system

PRWeb (2012) California State University Selects Pearson to Launch Cal State Online Long Beach CA: PRWeb, August 22

The California State University is the largest system of senior higher education in the country, with 23 campuses, approximately 427,000 students and 44,000 faculty and staff. The CSU awards about 99,000 degrees. Many of its campuses already offer online courses.

This initiative will pull them all together into one system, Cal State Online, using a common platform (Pearson’s cloud-based LearningSystem with inbuilt data analytics), the EQUELLA digital content repository, course development and instructional design services, and lead generation, marketing and enrollment services. Cal State Online will use Pearson’s academic training and consulting services to provide additional support to instructors.

Cal State Online will launch in January 2013 with a selection of undergraduate degree completion and professional master’s program.


I would really like to see more details before commenting extensively. For instance, who owns the content in the digital repository, Pearson or Cal State? How many campuses already have strong online programs and learning technology support?

Nevertheless, it is a very interesting development. Indeed, this could turn out to be one of the most significant developments in online learning for years (yes, much more significant for higher education than MOOCs).

There are really two elements to this decision, one of which I think is a very good strategy, and the other is less obvious to me in the balance of advantages to disadvantages.

A system-wide approach

The first element is taking a system-wide approach to online learning. This makes a great deal of sense to me. Students are scattered all over the state, as are the campuses offering online programs. Providing a central service so students can take the programs they want from whichever campus extends accessibility and offers opportunities for more productive programs, avoiding unnecessary duplication and providing some economies of scale, particularly regarding course design and development.


The second element that has both benefits and drawbacks is the partnership with Pearson. Cal State has basically outsourced its online learning strategy to Pearson, one of the world’s largest publishing companies. It will be interesting to see how this works out. In the short term, it should enable those campuses without strong online teaching experience to move more rapidly into this area. But in particular, will it lead to lower costs, or better quality, than the campuses running their own programs? That of course will depend to a large extent on the conditions of the contract, and especially how much Pearson gets from this deal.

Second, what will happen to the learning technology support staff already employed by the campuses? Will they lose their jobs? Will Pearson be able to provide better quality instructional design services and faculty training in online learning than the current Cal State staff? If the answer is yes to all these questions, then I think the system is taking a huge risk over the long term, for short-term benefits. All the online expertise (if not the content) will accumulate to Pearson. If in particular hybrid learning (a mix of online and classroom teaching) becomes the norm in post-secondary education, as I think it will, where will that leave the Cal State system compared to its competitors? Will it also have to depend on Pearson for developing its campus-based teaching which will then also have a large online element?

Only time will answer these questions, but on the very limited information available at the moment I think Cal State has made a strategic mistake that may well come back to haunt it. You don’t outsource your future core competencies.

Further updates

Muckenfuss, M. (2012) California State University Online, coming soon The Press-Enterprise, August 23

This local newspaper provides information about Cal State San Bernadino’s existing online programs. The article makes it clear that each state campus has the option of remaining outside the system-wide Cal State Online when it launches.


  1. Sally in Chicago says:

    At our department, CIS, the publisher has influence over how we test and assess the students. Instructors are no longer able to make their own quizzes and tests. The assessments are the publisher’s material that we use to test…plus the online “code” students have to buy to take the assessment cost $65! It’s just a code. I told my students if you want to protest, take it to your SGA, and I tell them they are the consumer. They have control over this. Textbooks and assessment material is ridiculously high.

  2. I couldn’t agree more. And it’s just not open architecture although this certainly helps. For instance UBC has a business model for self-financed online professional masters program that has been very successful, yet few universities, at least in Canada, have followed this route. However, the for profits have long been serving this market. Carol Twigg has been working for years to get more effective course designs for large first and second year undergraduate classes.
    If public universities don’t share best practices, rather than trying to compete with one another, they run the risk of being eaten alive by the private sector.
    Many thanks for your comment.


  1. […] California State University partners with Pearson for system-wide online program — from Tony Bates If you enjoyed this article, please consider sharing it! Tagged with: cost of getting an eduction • higher education • online learning • publishing • United States  […]

  2. […] California State University partners with Pearson for system-wide … […]

  3. […] Tony Bates, the Cal State system has outsourced their entire online infrastructure and expertise to Pearson. This is pretty insane, and I have to agree with what Bates suggests may be the tragic mistake in […]

  4. […] Cal State sells its soul to Pearson. […]

  5. […] on Share this:TwitterFacebookPinterestLinkedInTumblrStumbleUponDiggRedditEmailPrintLike this:LikeBe […]

  6. […] was followed by the California State University system deciding to outsource online learning to a commercial […]

  7. […] California State University partners with Pearson for system-wide online program: Tony Bates writes about the Cal State/Pearson partnership. “You don’t outsource your future core competencies.” […]

  8. […] to the ridiculous push by certain state educaiton systems’ to outsource their expertise (at which point I invoked this article about CSU) to ds106 to the ds106 Kickstarter (at which point I read this quote from Faulkner) to UMW’s […]

  9. […] The open source ecosystem at the University of Mary Washington has enabled us to do some pretty innovative things locally, as has Baruch College, CUNY’s Academic Commons, and the University of British Columbia. Yet, these localized experiments remain surprisingly uninteresting to most universities. How can open architecture through open source applications not begin to represent a re-investment in innovative people, process, and possibility at universities rather than off-loading our vision to a venture capital-inspired “solution” for education? It seems to me that a tremendous amount of teaching and learning design is currently being abdicated by universities, and businesses have no problem filling the void. Pearson’s contract with the California State College system is a very alarming example of just…. […]

Speak Your Mind