Raising your hand is so passé: Pearson buys real-time student feedback and polling startup

Pearson (s PSO) — the big kahuna of ed tech — has snapped up another startup. The company on Monday said it had purchased Learning Catalytics, a company founded at Harvard University by a trio of academics.

Like services from Top Hat Monocle, Socrative and other student response systems, Learning Catalytics turns students’ laptops, smartphones and iPads into classroom engagement tools. K-12 teachers and college professors can use Learning Catalytics to ask students questions during class and gauge their mastery of the material.

But Paul Corey, Pearson’s higher education president of science, business and technology, said a few key features distinguish Learning Catalytics: it enables teachers to ask all kinds of questions (not just multiple choice) and it gives teachers a quick graphical display of student responses.

Also, it doesn’t just turn students’ otherwise distracting devices into productive tools, it can promote more offline interaction between students. For example, if an instructor asks students to plot an equation, it can immediately determine who got it right and wrong and then pair up students based on their mastery.

“As things get more digital, how can [we] take advantage of physical proximity?” asked Corey. “This is a very powerful way to engage students effectively in the classroom.”

Earlier this year, Pearson announced a partnership with Top Hat Monocle, including a discounted subscription to Top Hat Monocle with the purchase of Pearson products. Even though the company now owns similar technology, Corey said they plan to continue its deal.

Pearson declined to share the financial details of its acquisition. But Corey said that while co-founders Gary King and Eric Mazur, both of whom are Harvard professors, will work with Pearson as consultants, co-founder Brian Lukoff will join the company full-time to continue building out Learning Catalytics.