Education publishing firm Pearson is transforming language learning with Microsoft Azure AI, helping students via interactive instructions, reducing tutoring costs for parents and enabling digital learning during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Pearson China wanted to digitise its textbooks and personalise the learning experience to give Chinese students more opportunity to practice English, and use artificial intelligence (AI) to empower teachers with highly accurate assessments and other tools.
“School-age students want to learn English faster in a much more natural, efficient way,” said Joe Lam, a managing director of English language learning at Pearson. “We started to define what kind of solution would help young students gain the skills they need to communicate in English fluently and succeed academically and beyond.”
Pearson started working with the Microsoft Research Asia and Azure Speech product teams to develop AI-based services for language learners. It adopted algorithms and a leading-edge pronunciation assessment feature, part of Microsoft’s Speech to Text capability, to assess pronunciation and provide feedback to speakers on their accuracy and fluency.
“From day one of working with Microsoft on this project, it was a reciprocal relationship and one of the best experiences we’ve ever had,” said Lam. “We respected the knowledge, skills and reliability that all parties brought to the table, and we were united in our single objective to deliver the best experience to language learners.”
Pearson also adopted Azure Cognitive Services for its digital learning program for primary school students in China, Longman Welcome to English. The firm adopted Text to Speech, using its machine learning and neural voice functionality to generate a natural-sounding voice so that students could improve their listening and comprehension.
“We enriched Longman with Cognitive Services to help reduce the workload of the primary school teachers while providing a companion for students to optimize their daily interactions in English,” said Lam.
When China closed its schools during Covid-19, Pearson quickly adjusted to provide cloud-based, remote English education content so that students had a digital alternative for their learning.
“We gave access to Longman Welcome to English to a majority of customers in China, making Wuhan customers a top priority,” said Lam. “There were more than 100 primary schools in Wuhan that needed our services immediately to support their students’ desire to study English at home, and we saw a huge spike in the number of learners.
“For us, technology is not just about addressing a commercial issue but about contributing to social responsibility.”