Dispatches from the Front
EdTech Leaders Face Covid-19
This is the thirteenth of a series of mini-interviews ODP conducted with EdTech Founders and Senior Executives to gain insights into how industry leaders are adjusting their strategies and evolving their management practices during the current pandemic.
THIS WEEK: John Campbell, CEO of Cambium Learning
John Campbell, CEO

John Campbell has been CEO of Cambium Learning since 2013. Prior to that, he served as President from 2009 to 2013. Cambium Learning® Group provides award-winning education technology and services for K-12 markets. The Cambium house of brands includes Cambium Assessment, Rosetta Stone®, Lexia® Learning, Learning A-Z®, Voyager Sopris Learning®, ExploreLearning®, Time4Learning®, and Kurzweil Education®.


1. Now that the school year is underway, what has surprised you the most about what your administrators/teachers, etc. are doing and what’s happening in your market in general?

When the pandemic first hit, it was of course very upsetting for a multitude of reasons. I was concerned about the business, about our employees, and about all the students. As we grappled with how to continue business, we came up with a counterintuitive solution: to offer free access to all our student-facing solutions for an extended trial period. We have provided about half a million subscriptions. What surprised me — and pleased me from a business point of view — was how many schools bought the programs they were accessing for free before the trial time of three months was up. This urgency showed us that these school districts are doing anything they can to find a way to serve their students under difficult current circumstances.

The pandemic has caused schools and parents to seek out digital solutions at an accelerated rate, especially those delivering solid, easy-to-use solutions to the most important instructional challenges. We’ve seen tremendous demand across all verticals in our portfolio, especially at Learning A-Z, ExploreLearning, Voyager Sopris Learning, Time4Learning, Lexia Learning, and Rosetta Stone. For example, since March, over 5 million students have logged into ExploreLearning’s Gizmos, which is a program that supports students with math and science. Additionally, since the pandemic lockdown began, over 4.4 million students have used Lexia programs worldwide, which support literacy. I’m so glad that our solutions are one part of the answer to help kids continue to learn.

2. What does the new normal look like for Cambium and its family of companies?

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented new challenges in terms of how we operate. At Cambium we have maintained our focus on making sure teachers and students feel universally valued, and have used new approaches to reach our audiences and engage with clients. Despite everything, 2020 has been a milestone year for us. In the beginning of the year we acquired the leading summative assessment company from the American Institutes for Research, now renamed Cambium Assessment. With the October acquisition of Rosetta Stone and Lexia Learning, we’ve further cemented ourselves as a leader in the education technology space. We also just announced our new brand identity, which reflects our aspirational intent: to gather brands that prioritize the elements of simplicity, certainty, and now for teachers and students. All of that is to say that the new normal means continued growth for our business units, just with less in-person interaction. We’ll continue to look at companies that make sense for us to add to our house of brands, and we’ll keep working with schools to ensure students are learning and progressing every single day.

3. Do you see this continuing, or do you think education will go back to what was ‘normal’ prior?

​​​The increasing use of technology to help students reach their potential was already underway; COVID-19 merely accelerated that trend. I’m proud of our business units for excelling during this time and serving the dramatically greater volume of students this year. Teachers who are finding digital learning solutions to be helpful now will continue to use those solutions once the pandemic is over. Our view is that teachers are critically important, and that any digital technology they’ve learned to use during this time will only help them be more effective when students are back in classrooms. Think of it this way: there are things we’ve all adjusted during this pandemic that we, to our surprise, ended up liking and will continue to do after the pandemic. One example of this is ordering food from restaurants instead of going out to eat. If something is effective and satisfying, then you’ll keep doing it after the pandemic. The same is true of digital learning.

4. How long do you expect your employees to work remotely? What are your plans for using your office space going forward?

Our employees will work remotely until it is absolutely safe to go back into the office, and even then, I’m sure we’ll continue to have a very flexible work from home schedule. With all of the positive vaccine news, I suspect that sometime next year we’ll begin going into work again, but I’ll certainly take each person’s comfort levels into account. Cambium and all of our brands have risen to the occasion of a fully remote workplace, so I see no reason to force people back into the office if they’re not comfortable. We’ve held onto our office space and don’t plan to make any changes to that in the near future.

5. How has your leadership style changed – or not – during this period? What might you be doing differently now with your team?

This pandemic has highlighted the importance of family, work-life balance and flexibility. While I’ve always strived to create a culture of trust and freedom, during this time I’ve focused on that even more. I’ve been able to take a step back and speak with managers about the importance of letting our employees attend to personal matters and take care of their kids. Regular 9-5 hours have gone out the window for some of our employees who have young children at home and who can work better, for example, in the early morning and at night. The pandemic has shown us that life is precious. I hope my leadership style has shown that I truly believe that and care about my employees’ health and well-being. We have weekly check ins with the business units and my other partners, and of course have switched to more video conferencing which makes us feel more connected. I’ve also increased my written communication, providing more email updates than ever before, as a culture of transparency always, but especially now, is important to me.


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Robin Warner

Managing Director

Oaklins DeSilva+Phillips

(212) 651-2605