We’ve answered some of your most common questions about efficacy. If you have any
further questions please get in touch with a member of our global efficacy team.

1. What is efficacy?

Efficacy isn’t just effectiveness and is not quite the same as efficiency.

For us, efficacy is about making sure that we have a measureable impact on improving someone’s life through learning, ensuring we are delivering the learner outcomes we set out to achieve. The word efficacy originates from the pharmaceutical industry where understanding the efficacy of medical interventions using systematic trials is essential. We were inspired to apply the same level of rigour to the education sector.

2. Why is Pearson focusing on efficacy now?

Learner outcomes have always been important to Pearson – our purpose is to help people make progress in their lives through learning. We already have many examples of products that can demonstrate their impact on learners, but going forward our aim is to ensure that every action, every decision, every process, and every investment we make will be driven by a clear sense and understanding of how it will make a measurable impact on learning outcomes.

It is increasingly possible to determine what works and what doesn’t in education, just as in healthcare. Growing research and evidence, advancements in technology and our enhanced ability to harness the power of data offers a huge opportunity to drive improvements in learning. Pearson, as the world’s largest learning company, has both the responsibility and the potential to pursue and lead this conversation.

3. What are you doing at Pearson to improve efficacy?

We have made a number of commitments which we will implement to achieve our five year goal.  These are:

  • Every part of Pearson will have a senior leader with a specific brief for improving efficacy. Product roles will be reshaped to focus on delivering outcomes rather than inputs.
  • We will use this network to dramatically scale up the application of our efficacy framework throughout the company – as we work towards reporting publicly on our progress.
  • Over the next five years we will introduce reporting of our learning outcomes, alongside our traditional financial reporting.
  • We will embed delivery of learning outcomes into our HR policies including recruitment, training, performance management and reward. We will also incentivise senior leaders on improving the impact of their products and services on learners.
  • We will create a new global research network, connecting internal research with outside experts, to address barriers to efficacy and areas of unmet need in education. The network will inform our strategy and product development, and we will share our findings openly through a new research repository “Open Ideas”.


4. How unique is this approach?

Efficacy is not a new concept: other industries and businesses have ways of measuring the impact of their products and services on their customers. Indeed, the term ‘efficacy’ comes from the pharmaceutical industry, where focusing on outcomes as well as inputs is essential. We are inspired to apply the same principle and level of rigour to the education sector.

We are interested to hear about the approaches that others have taken towards this goal, so we can learn from one another.

5. What is Pearson’s long term goal with efficacy?

At Pearson, our purpose is to help people make progress in their lives through learning. So, we better be sure that we can demonstrate that progress, in all we do, in a meaningful way. Efficacy is how we can be sure that we are achieving this. We want to know what works – and share it.

We are putting the pursuit of efficacy and learning outcomes at the centre of our new global education strategy.We hope to reach a position where any learner who uses a Pearson product does so with confidence, knowing that if they keep their side of the bargain in terms of the hours of study and practice, that we will keep our side of the bargain so they can achieve their learning goals.

And, ultimately, we hope that by working with others to focus on driving learner outcomes, we will contribute to improved socio-economic growth and development around the world.

6. What is the Efficacy Framework?

The Efficacy Framework is a proven method to help you understand how your product, service, or business capability can achieve the outcomes or results it intends to. It can help you identify the gaps or risks on the path to efficacy, so that you can decide how to progress. It consists of four main questions:

  • What outcomes are you trying to achieve?
  • What evidence do you have that you can or have achieved those outcomes?
  • What plans, governance mechanisms, and systems do you have in place to deliver these outcomes?
  • What capacity is in place to deliver these outcomes?

Within each of these sections is a series of more specific questions about the different factors that contribute to a product or service’s efficacy. These questions are answered by assigning a colour rating. The different colour ratings are then combined for each section, and across the whole review, to give an overall efficacy rating. This will allow you to set targets for the ratings the product/service should have achieved 3, 6 and 12 months after the first review to enable you to track progress and improvement.

We have designed this website to provide users with access to our efficacy framework via an interactive tool. We have provided detailed guidance on each of the colour ratings for each question within the tool, and have also provided examples for you to assess your own product or service against. If you’d like to perform an efficacy review please visit the efficacy tool page.

After completing your efficacy review online you will be provided with your overall efficacy score as well as individual scores for each section. You will be able to download a pdf report with suggestions of things you may wish to consider to help improve your score. You can then return to the interactive tool again in 3, 6 and 12 months and complete another review to determine the progress and improvement in delivering learner outcomes.

7. How can I review the efficacy of my products/services?

If you’d like to perform an efficacy review please visit the efficacy tool page. When you’ve completed your review, please let us know your thoughts by completing our feedback form.

8. How do you know this is the best way to do it?

The Efficacy Framework has been developed over the last 18 months by Sir Michael Barber and his team, who have drawn on Michael’s experience as the head of the UK Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit, the example set by the pharmaceutical industry in rigorously measuring outcomes, and the exceptional work of leading thinkers in education worldwide.

In developing and piloting the framework, we’ve learned a lot about what it means to deliver learning outcomes in a variety of settings. We haven’t learned it all though, and we are conscious that ours is just one view of many. This is why we are inviting you to try our interactive tool and provide us with your comments to enable us to work together with educators, learners and efficacy experts to improve how we measure and deliver outcomes.

To share more of the insights and experiences of our steps to measure and improve learner outcomes, Pearson’s Chief Education Advisor Sir Michael Barber, SVP of Efficacy Saad Rizvi and their colleagues have produced ‘The Incomplete Guide to Delivering Learning Outcomes’.

9. I’d like to get involved and learn more about efficacy. Who can I talk to?

If you’re interested in attending an event, have an idea for a theme or topic, or your organisation would like to partner with Pearson to co-host an event on learning outcomes and efficacy, please see details of how to get involved here.

If you have questions about efficacy, please contact one of our global efficacy team.

10. What has been the response so far outside of Pearson?

This is the beginning of what we hope will be a lively and rich conversation. We’re grateful to the experts who have supported us by contributing to our ‘Asking More: The Path to Efficacy’ report which focuses on the importance and challenges of efficacy. We now want to spread the debate and discussion much more widely and hear from you!

Geoff Mulgan, Nesta CEO, commented:

“It is not enough for education to inspire, engage, and delight. It needs to do all those things and help students to achieve their goals. We need to be more ambitious and stringent in how we approach education – and this idea lies at the heart of the efficacy initiative. Seeking and reporting on outcomes involves some risk, and some challenge. But the net result will be better education for millions of children who deserve nothing less.”

Peter Hill, Australian Assessment Expert, commented:

“The toughest part of being an educator is determining whether you and your learners have achieved what you set out to, but it is absolutely critical to ensuring we’re investing our energy in the right places to improve education.

“A step change in education can be achieved if we focus on getting better at measuring what matters to excel and prosper in work in the modern world, and use that data to inform how we teach in our school system and beyond.

“There are no easy solutions, but with advances in technology and assessment research, we are more likely to make progress than ever before. It is so important that we open the discussion and set the aspiration.”

For an overview of how global media have responded to Pearson’s efficacy initiative please see a selection of recent coverage here.