Co-creating solutions together with teachers

Sanoma Learning had a successful year. It delivered organic growth and strong profitability, achieved high growth in digital sales and extended its international reach. CEO John Martin says Sanoma Learning is poised to transform K12 education with digital solutions that improve learning outcomes for pupils, support teachers and increase engagement.

Without a doubt, in 2014 Sanoma Learning strengthened its position as the frontrunner in digital education. "Digital and service grew by 15%, resulting in organic growth, and our EBIT margin was 17.5%, excluding non-recurring items but including heavy investments in digital and new initiatives. For the first time in our history, we made more than EUR 50 million in digital and service and around half of our business was either digital or played multi-channel," says Martin, who became CEO of Sanoma Learning early in 2014 after setting up Sanoma Digital.These positive results are underpinned by local successes. Malmberg in the Netherlands achieved very strong profitability, increased digital sales by 15%, and launched five major initiatives in primary, secondary and vocational education, and in testing and assessment. In Belgium, Van In delivered top-line sales growth and is now building a solution for differentiated learning in secondary education that is inspired by bingel, its popular gamified platform for primary education.

Largest ed tech player

Finland, meanwhile, built a new and digitally skilled team that will lead the digital transformation of Sanoma Pro in preparation for the 2016 curriculum reform. And in Poland, Young Digital Planet realised four deals larger than EUR1 million outside Sanoma Learning’s home markets. These deals involve delivering digital learning courses in cooperation with local partners in China, India and Latin America. All in all, Sanoma Learning has significant reach in the European education market. In 2014, Sanoma Learning served approximately 10 million pupils and 1 million teachers across Northern Europe. Its learning platforms are used by 80% of primary schools in Belgium, 90% of teachers in Finland and 75% of pupils in primary education in the Netherlands. "With more than EUR 50 million in pure-play digital solutions sales, we are arguably continental Europe's largest education technology player in the K12 space."

"With more than EUR 50 million in pure-play digital solutions sales, we are arguably continental Europe's largest education technology player in the K12 space" 

Speeding up innovation

Martin also revamped the leadership team in 2014. He brought the local Managing Directors into the top team and appointed a new Head of Business Technology to lead the crucial co-development programme. The purpose of this programme is to develop new technologies and deploy them across multiple countries. Bingel, for example, was originally launched in Flanders, Belgium, but is now also being replicated and localised for use in Wallonia and Sweden. The co-development programme is part of Sanoma Learning’s wider investment in innovation. "We are transforming our print-only solutions into multi-channel services, so that they also work on PCs, tablets and mobile devices. We are also investing in digital-only solutions and adding workflow capabilities to the content, so they can have more impact on pupils and make the teacher’s life easier."

Sanoma Learning is also involving external innovation partners. A partnership between Malmberg and New York ed tech company Knewton will bring adaptive learning to Europe, enabling courses to be tailored to the level and learning style of each pupil. Sanoma Learning and Sanoma Digital also launched the Sanoma Learning Lab, which saw Sanoma Learning employees, teachers and students come up with business ideas for the future of education. And two start-up challenges in Finland and Amsterdam also provided the company with many breakthrough ideas.

Digital frontrunner

In 2015, Martin wants Sanoma Learning to achieve three things. His first ambition is to achieve good profitability while continuing to invest heavily in the digital transformation. Secondly, he aims to create a partnership in one or more emerging markets, including China, where Sanoma has an excellent reputation for quality and digital competence. The third aim, and arguably the most important, is to remain a frontrunner in the digital transformation. "Digital is going to play a key role in the transformation of education. We will continue to invest heavily in new digital offerings and our capabilities to bring these to the market. We will also continue to make our content play multi-channel and add workflow functionalities and insights."

The digital journey is not without its challenges and Martin often sees how lack of funding, hardware, software, and teacher development are making it challenging for schools to embrace digital learning. He is optimistic, however. "Teachers are motivated to introduce digital learning and we’re working with them to co-create solutions that really work in schools. Digital-only solutions are probably a bit too far ahead of where most schools are today. Multi-channel is the way to go for the next few years."