Media Companies Move Into Digital-Education Space

By Ian Quillen — August 09, 2011 2 min read
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Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. is not unique among media companies in deciding in recent years to invest in digital education endeavors.

In 2007, for example, the New York Times Co. launched the New York Times Knowledge Network, which uses the company’s human and electronic resources to offer an array of online courses for high school, college, graduate, and continuing education students.

NBC Learn, the educational wing of the television network, has delivered digital K-12 and higher education content in free and for-pay formats since 2009.

And Discovery Communications launched Discovery Education, which has offered extensive free and for-pay online content since 2003.

“I think it could be these companies have a certain DNA—a certain internal skill set—[and] that they’re looking to new markets to apply that core expertise,” said Steven Pines, the executive director of the Education Industry Association, based in Washington. “And teaching and learning is a huge enterprise that is federally, state, and locally funded.”

In New York, for example, competitively awarded federal funds have poured into several education technology ventures in recent months.

The School of One, at which News Corp.’s Wireless Generation is the lead technology partner, was awarded $5 million in federal Investing in Innovation, or i3, grant funding last fall. And the New York City Innovation Zone, a broader digital-modernization project launched while Joel I. Klein—now the head of News Corp.’s education division—was schools chancellor, is using $25 million of the state’s $696 million federal allotment from a winning Race to the Top application.

Converging Missions?

Broader forces are also at work in media companies’ education ventures, suggests Felice Nudelman, the executive director of education for the New York Times Co. She said the missions of journalism and digital education have converged in part because news-gathering and educating both are becoming increasingly collaborative and reliant on digital media.

At the Times Co., she said, those factors are coupled with a corporate mission that includes furthering education. She noted a history of involvement by The New York Times in education, including the Newspapers in Education Program, which helped put newspapers in New York City schools as early as the early 1900s, and educational research partnerships throughout the years.

“I think that what we’re doing in education is a natural alignment,” Ms. Nudelman said. “The work we’re doing really focuses on the learning environment—how people learn, how educators teach. Other companies are choosing different paths.

“[Education] is a really big area,” she said, “and I think people are identifying ways that either align with their corporate mission or that they think are opportunities for their companies.”

A version of this article appeared in the August 10, 2011 edition of Education Week as Media Companies Move Into Digital-Education Space


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