Post Labor Day Odds and Ends
Tomorrow's AI webinar, new URL for On EdTech, and Boundless Learning updates
Was this forwarded to you by a friend? Sign up, and get your own copy of the news that matters sent to your inbox every week. Sign up for the On EdTech newsletter. Interested in additional analysis? Try with our 30-day free trial and Upgrade to the On EdTech+ newsletter.
Generative AI Webinar
Tomorrow I have the privilege of supporting Glenda Morgan, who is leading a webinar for Contact North on institutional responses to generative AI. This webinar is a follow-up to Morgan’s initial post, with updates and recommendations. Registration is free for On EdTech subscribers (ok, ok, technically it’s free for all). [Full-page audio link]
The Generative AI Mirror: The Five Pathologies of EdTech Discourse About New Technologies
Wednesday, September 6th, 10am PDT 1pm EDT
More information and a free registration link
Changes to On EdTech URLs
Now that we’ve had the new newsletter from Beehiiv available for several months, delivering the blog to subscribers along with a premium version, it’s time to make some improvements. Namely, it’s been too cumbersome having a separate site for the newsletter (free and premium) and for the associated blog.
This week we are moving everything to one place - a subdomain at https://onedtech.philhillaa.com. This site will replace both the newsletter webpage, and all posts from May 2019 on will be there, for free and premium posts. In addition, subscribers can manage their subscription from this new subdomain.
I have set up redirects from the current sites to the new one, for the landing page and all posts. But if you browse the site to find posts, you’ll want to change your default URL that you use, and if you are stubborn like me and use RSS feeds, use the new one instead. The new subdomain is live now, and the redirects will be in effect by the end of the week.
Let me know if you see any problems, so we can fix them quickly.
Boundless Learning Updates
To start with, Boundless Learning has formally launched their new web presence, although I have not seen any marketing to support the brand launch.
I’ll have more to say on the business of Boundless and what this means for the OPM market, but given that Labor Day was this week, let’s look at some new details on the employment contracts that enabled the layoffs without severance.
As a recap, Pearson announced a sale process for Pearson Online Learning Services (POLS, it’s Online Program Management division, now renamed as Boundless Learning) late last summer. In March 2023 Pearson announced the agreement to sell to Regent LP, and the deal was closed at the end of June 2023. Soon after the close of the sale, Boundless execs told staff they were cutting out a bunch of their OPM partnerships, which would cause changes in staffing levels. On August 2nd nearly half the staff were laid off with no severance (for US employees). During this whole time, Pearson knew of the need for further layoffs but let Regent do the dirty work to avoid the restructuring costs.
The actual vehicle used for this purchase is Mega International LLC - that is the Regent-owned company that technically owns Boundless.
all rights reserved, apparently, by Dr. Evil
I would like to clarify one misconception that several online commenters have shared based on my coverage. No, the actions of Pearson, Regent / Mega, and the Boundless executive team are not typical. While Regent did their homework and seem to know what they can legally get away with, the situation we’ve seen this summer is not common practice, even with US tech firms.
I’ve heard from a number of current or former POLS / Boundless employees sharing their stories anonymously, most of which back up the descriptions I initially provided. But the stories add important details on how Pearson and Regent and Boundless trapped staff in a no-win situation this summer.
All but one of my sources have described their direct managers falsely assuring them in the May and June timeframe to not worry about the new Regent employee contracts. There were no planned mass layoffs, and they would fix the changed benefits with one exception - 401(k) matching. In essence, there was tremendous pressure from POLS / Boundless management to get staff to sign the employment contracts and formalize their new status.
In reality there were many changes in benefits. No severance, lost paid time off (PTO) for many staff, lost PTO and dental coverage for part-time staff, and an end to remote work for all staff, even if there was no Mega International office nearby.
For what it’s worth, the one source who disagreed indicated not hearing any false claims from management - instead the pressure came from the timeline itself. Everyone agreed on the timeline pressure.
During that transition time from March through June 2023, Pearson classified all POLS / Boundless staff as contingent. In other words, they were losing their Pearson benefits and status, and there was no option to stay with Pearson.
Based on documents that I have seen, the POLS / Boundless executive team held several town halls in May and June, and the actual employment contracts to become Mega International employees were provided on or around Saturday June 10th. Staff had a deadline to sign by Tuesday June 27th. Not accepting the employment offer would be equivalent to a resignation.
That was the trap - you have no right to return to Pearson with its benefits, you must sign the offer letter with all of its clauses in a 2.5 week period, and if you don’t, then you have resigned. Staff were faced with the choice of agreeing to all terms or quitting.
There are two other terms in the employment contracts worth pointing out.
One is that Mega International has a non-disparagement clause that reads in part:
The Employer Group is Mega International, which I believe the same vehicle used for all purchases, meaning that the Boundless staff that accepted employment contractually cannot criticize Regent, Mega, Boundless, or even Wonderbra, Playtex, or any of the other Regent portfolio companies. Or even the vague “other associated third parties.” That is quite restrictive and paranoid.
The second clause worth pointing out is that Mega International forced employees to agree to arbitration, meaning that for any dispute, staff would have to deal with Mega by themselves. Without any class action or group action. Employees could apply to opt out of this clause, but by default all Boundless staff are under these terms.
What follows is five pages of dense legalese specifying everything requiring arbitration and the few exceptions (workers comp, etc). Arbitration as a process is one issue, but the key point is that signing the agreement precluded staff from working with others.
It seems to me that these two clauses effectively enabled the mass layoffs without severance that occurred August 2nd. Regent / Mega was relying on keeping this situation quiet and in their control.
Thus ends an ugly labor situation for Boundless Learning that is unique to the companies involved. This is not typical business.
Remember that POLS was the largest OPM just a decade ago, with Pearson paying more than $1 billion to create the group. While 2U/edX and Wiley have overtaken POLS / Boundless in total revenue, this is still one of the biggest OPM providers. I’ll describe the business situation in subsequent posts.
The main On EdTech newsletter is free to share in part or in whole. All we ask is attribution.
Thanks for being a subscriber.