Students at the Center of Tomorrow’s Best Learning Tools

A Company Philosophy

Pearson has always put learners at the center of its work.

This spring, Robin Duffy and her team will have a new opportunity to do just that.

“My team is responsible for executing the research to support the design and development of Pearson’s pre-kindergarten through grade 12 educational curriculum and courseware, but the learning tools and solutions Pearson creates are ultimately for students,” Robin says.

“So it’s critical that we embrace the Pearson way of doing things and involve learners in our work as much as we can.”

A New, New Jersey Lab

Construction is complete on a new research facility inside the Pearson office in Hoboken, New Jersey.

The facility will serve as a hub for software usability testing and user experience research.

Children who come to the center will serve as Pearson research partners, trying out educational products and providing real-time feedback.

Robin and her team are currently recruiting students in grades Pre-kindergarten through 12 to participate in this research.

“We’re looking for learners of all abilities and achievement levels,” Robin says, “to test drive new educational products and tools and share their thoughts and ideas with us.”

These research activities could include one-on-one interviews for students who live locally, or online surveys or virtual focus groups for those participating remotely.

Their feedback, Robin says, will help Pearson improve its existing education tools and develop new ones as well.

Building Tools and Skills at the Same Time

When students participate in product research, Robin says, they’re helping design learning tools, but they’re also learning things, too.

“It encourages collaboration, helps hone communication and decision-making skills, and builds confidence and self-esteem,” she says.

“Those are the same skills they’ll need in college and in their careers.”

A Tried and True Model

Robin and her colleagues have seen this student-centered research model work before.

In 2010, Pearson opened the first research facility of this kind in Chandler, Arizona.

As Robin says, it is “thriving.”

“Our recruitment efforts have been extremely successful there, and we have a big network of parents and students in that area who participate in our product development research.”

Robin oversees that research facility, and says has learned some valuable lessons from that experience, especially about making the research study process transparent for both the students and their parents.

“I’m a parent, too, so I understand completely the feeling of wanting to know your children are safe in this environment.”

In the Hoboken facility, parents will be able to watch a live stream of their children’s study from a nearby conference room.

“They can have eyes on their kids the whole time…literally,” Robin says.

Privacy as a Priority

Robin says that when it comes to these research studies, privacy is as important as safety.

When a parent signs their children up to join the research network, they are asked only for the child’s gender and grade level.

“All communication is done through the parent, whether their child is 4 or 17,” Robin says. “We will never contact a child directly.”

Parents are notified via email when their child matches the needs for a current research opportunity.

If they opt the child into the study, parents sign a consent form beforehand.

They have the option of opting out of the experience at any given time as well.

Same Model, Different Coast

Robin says she is hopeful that Pearson’s student-centered research model will be as successful in New Jersey as it has been in Arizona.

“Our existing network of parents has been really helpful in recruiting new families,” Robin says.

“About 50 percent of our participant pool is made up of those referrals.”

Feedback from students is critical to the continuing development of new and effective learning tools, Robin says.

“As professionals, we may know what must go into a product from a pedagogical point of view, and we can speculate what will be engaging and interesting to kids…but we’d rather just ask them directly and watch them use the products,” she says.

For Pearson, Robin says, that approach works well.

“We’ve learned that children can be objective and analytical, but they can also just be children and tell us honestly what they think,” she says.

“We put them at the center of what we do, and treat them with the respect they deserve – because they have incredible insights, too.”

A Grand Opening

The Hoboken research lab is now complete, Robin says.

“I feel like I’m in a ‘Field of Dreams’ moment.”

It’s built, and now it’s my job to get students to come.”


To enroll your children in Pearson’s research network, visit