Kasey Panetta, News Director: Hi George! Tell me about Cengage and why what you are doing is so important?
George Moore, CTO, Cengage Learning: Cengage Learning is a global education technology company with a mission to develop new ways to collaborate, inspire and improve learning. Over the past few years, we have been transforming from an education publisher into a leading learning technology company with a focus on the student. Putting students at the center of learning, we focus on providing best-in-class digital products that align with what students and faculty customers want and believe will best enable success.
As job growth in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) continues to outpace other areas, equipping students with the skills and training they need to succeed in the job market is a top priority for us at Cengage. MindTap, our flagship digital tool, is available for more than 650 courses spanning the STEM disciplines. MindTap integrates reading, homework, quizzing and multi-media assets into an engaging course experience for the user. The platform’s flexibility allows instructors to bring in content and applications from any source to give students real world context to make their learning experience interesting and relevant – ultimately helping to motivate and keep students on their STEM learning pathway.
We spend a lot of time with students – to understand how they live and how they like to learn. Similarly, we work closely with instructors to incorporate their valuable feedback in our products. Specific to areas of STEM, we’ve learned some interesting things. For instance, when asked, 76% of students told us that they find math difficult. In addition, 86% of instructors believe students struggle with critical-thinking skills and study habits, areas that are so important in STEM fields. We are helping with this, which I will touch on later.
Panetta: Why did you get involved with this company?
Moore: I am deeply passionate about technology’s ability to revolutionize the way products are used to help people. As Chief Technology Officer, I’m part of the team leading that charge at Cengage Learning. Ours is a culture that values engagement, empowerment and discovery and we’re working to enrich the relationship between educators and students. We’re committed to engaging and motivating students to advance how they learn. It’s our core mission.
Panetta: Why is STEM education so important?
Moore: The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports that employment in STEM will increase by more than nine million jobs by 2022. That is a significant increase. But, we are also seeing employers having trouble filling jobs. According to the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, 65 percent of all jobs will require an education beyond high school by the end of this decade, yet today only about 40–45 percent of Americans have at least an associate’s degree or high-quality postsecondary certificate.
With the number of job opportunities on the rise in STEM and employers seeking more skilled job candidates, it is important now – more than ever – to ensure that our graduating students have the skills needed to pursue careers in these fields.
Panetta: What type of experimental learning works best and why do you think that is?
Moore: Career-focused experiential learning inspires and engages students in the fields of STEM by providing opportunities for students to have meaningful experiences. To give students in workforce training programs access to real-life scenarios and interactive training activities, Cengage Learning has developed virtual simulation experiences for skills areas including Automotive, Electrical, HVAC, Construction, Welding, Robotics and Cosmetology industries. Our programs include 3D simulated activity, video-based decision-making scenarios, and simulated software settings that support effective learning through experience. Students gain critical thinking skills by taking different steps to get different results – learning from mistakes in a safe environment.
Panetta: Talk to me about closing the [math and science] gap and the importance of this?
Moore :As I mentioned earlier, the number of open jobs in STEM is steadily increasing. However, at the same time, we are also seeing a growing number of students falling behind in subjects like math and science, which are necessary to be successful in the STEM fields. According to the National Math + Science Initiative, 44 percent of U.S. high school graduates are ready for college-level math and only 36 percent are ready for college-level science.
Right now, I’m especially excited about a commitment that Cengage has made to a completely new approach to teaching developmental studies based on what we’ve learned from students about how they learn. MindTap Math Foundations was launched in early March and addresses the growing problem of college readiness and the need to close the gap in STEM education.
Throughout the product development process, we have been working directly with students (nearly 1,000!) and instructors to understand firsthand the greatest impediments to student success in the fields of STEM, including challenges in having the time to study and lack of confidence. As a result, the solution incorporates games, interactive content and mobile features that help students stay engaged and build on what they know. MindTap Math Foundations features 15-minute “snackable” bits of learning to help students based on their workflow – anytime, anywhere.
Panetta: How can we tackle the issue of the lack of women and minorities in STEM?
Moore: In today’s world, we do see a STEM employment gap. According to the White House, women and minorities represent 70 percent of college students but less than 45 percent of STEM degrees. That is a massive untapped talent pool that we need to access.
The National Center for Education Statistics reports that low STEM attrition among women and minorities can be attributed to several factors including inadequate academic advising, career counseling, and institution support; feelings of isolation in STEM fields because too few peers pursue STEM degrees and too few role models and mentors are available.
In order to improve STEM attrition among women and minorities, several things can be done. First, we need to address the challenge of the numbers of students falling behind in subjects like math, which is critical to succeeding in a STEM career. As a nation, we need to improve our math – and even science – programs so that students who are struggling are not left behind or left unprepared for future careers. And, I think Cengage is doing that with our new MindTap Math Foundations program.
Second, expanding access to computer technology is critical to engaging today’s students and helping them master the STEM skills that will give them the best opportunity for a successful future. Today’s students are the pipeline for our next generation of skilled talent. As an employer, Cengage Learning understands that the greatest investment we can make for our company is to invest in today’s students.
Panetta: Do you see a shift in the STEM demographic over the next 10 years? Why?
Moore: Yes, I do see a shift in the STEM demographic over the next decade. With a greater emphasis on STEM education now and the demand for job candidates with STEM skills, I think we will see more of the current primary and secondary school students – including more female and minority students – attending college in order to obtain degrees in the STEM fields.
Panetta: What’s the biggest challenge in STEM education today?
Moore: The lack of college readiness and the reality of poor student outcomes in math and science are the biggest challenges in STEM education today. According to the National Conference on State Legislatures, only 27 percent of students enrolled in remedial math earn a bachelor’s degree.
Successfully completing developmental course work the first time through can be a powerful assist to opening the door to higher education and employment for tens of thousands of college students.
Panetta: Great! Thanks for checking in with us George!