Steve Brown, President & CEO of Nelson Education Ltd

Steve Brown’s journey to Nelson Education Ltd has been a long and circuitous one. It reflects his diverse background and unwavering passion for pushing boundaries. For more than two decades, he traveled worldwide, immersing himself in the automotive industry across three continents and countless countries. But his story doesn’t end there. Before joining Nelson, he was the head of a media giant, leading the company through the ever-changing landscape of DVD, Blu-ray, and digital entertainment.

“I’m a great believer that there are more similarities in different industries than there are differences, it’s really the business of business. If you look at a business and study its point of differentiation compared to the rest of the market, that’s a great place to start,” says Brown. Rather than getting bogged down in the superficial aspects of digital transformation, Brown advocates for a deeper understanding of a company’s core mission and values.

When Brown joined Nelson in 2016, he encountered a company steeped in history—a century-old institution with a legacy of textbook publishing. But instead of resting on its laurels, Brown saw an opportunity for reinvention. Enter “Project Herschel,” a bold initiative named after a backpack brand, symbolizing the spirit of innovation. With a team of top-notch tech talent, Brown set out to revolutionize Nelson’s approach to education with Edwin, a groundbreaking digital platform.

But perhaps the most profound insight Brown brought to Nelson was the realization that they were not just in the business of printing textbooks—they were in the business of spreading knowledge. He explains, “It was really at the root of understanding that what we were was a content company and not a textbook company, so the only thing that changed was the methodology of delivery. After all, we never owned a papermill, so why should we get caught up in the method in which we deliver our content?” By embracing digital delivery methods, Nelson could reach more students and educators than ever before, without being tethered to the limitations of traditional publishing.

Strategic Shifts and Technological Innovation

Brown’s strategic vision for Nelson extended beyond mere adaptation—it involved a fundamental reevaluation of the company’s focus and direction. Recognizing the shifting landscape of education, particularly in the realms of post-secondary and K-12 markets, Brown made the bold decision to pivot away from the former. “Walking away from post-secondary was a strategic move as I believed that the effect of undergraduate degrees was being diminished by micro-credentialing and 21st-century skills,” states Brown.

In this evolving educational landscape, Brown saw an opportunity to streamline Nelson’s efforts and concentrate on a singular mission. Divesting from post-secondary education was not just a strategic move—it was a declaration of commitment to excellence. “It was my view and still is, that K- 12 education is not only a marketplace which will never go away because it teaches kids of any generation much more than just education, but how to collaborate, problem solve, and communicate,” adds Brown. Moreover, Brown recognized its societal importance, acknowledging the pivotal role it plays in facilitating parents’ return to the workforce.

Central to Nelson’s evolution was the establishment of a cutting-edge technology department in Silicon Beach, California—a move that underscored Brown’s commitment to innovation. By assembling a team of top-tier technologists, Brown sought to create a platform that seamlessly integrated content delivery with user experience. The goal was simple yet profound. Brown shares, “I believed that it had to be so intuitive for students and teachers to use at the same time. You did not need to think about how to operate the technology because by definition, if you had to think about how to navigate around the platform, you were being dilutive to teaching or learning time. With no need for an operating guide or training, you could immediately engage in learning materials in a way that would drive learning and teaching efficiency at the same time.”

Brown’s decision to anchor the technology hub in California was no coincidence. Leveraging his network from his tenure in the media industry, Brown tapped into a pool of world-class talent already residing in the tech mecca. Today, this team, comprising both Californian and Toronto-based members, stands as a testament to Nelson’s dedication to excellence in education technology.

From Observation to Innovation: The Birth and Evolution of Edwin

The genesis of Edwin, Nelson Education Ltd.’s revolutionary digital platform, traces back to a seemingly mundane moment—a simple observation made by Brown upon returning home from a business trip. As he stumbled upon his children’s overstuffed backpacks, laden with the weight of traditional educational materials, Brown was struck by a revelation: there had to be a better way to deliver content to students. He recounts, “Knowing that the digital future was coming to all industries, I thought there must be a better way to deliver that content, which ladened those backpacks to such hideous weights. And that’s where it all started.”

With hundreds of thousands of students and educators engaging with Edwin daily, Brown envisions a perpetual cycle of improvement, ensuring that the platform remains at the forefront of educational innovation. He adds, “If you can imagine Edwin being finished, then you have no imagination at all. Edwin will continue to iterate and improve as it moves from generation to generation in a methodology that delivers world-class education to all students.”

At the heart of Edwin lies a commitment to equity and inclusivity, ensuring that every student, regardless of socio-economic background or geographic location, has access to quality education. Through a multi-modal approach, Edwin meets students where they are, catering to diverse learning styles and preferences.

Central to Edwin’s design is a focus on student engagement—a cornerstone of effective education. Brown shares, “We had to create an environment in Edwin that was engaging for students and spoke to them in the same way as in every other aspect of their life, such as having a recommendation and search engine, rather than just a table of contents and chapters.” Brown understands that engaged students are the key to unlocking their full potential and driving positive educational outcomes.

But for Brown, the impact of Edwin extends far beyond the classroom walls. He states, “If you look at the world today, and you look at the polarization of society and the world problems we are facing, I truly believe that through education, we can make the world a better place.” With aspirations of seeing Edwin in every classroom worldwide, Brown’s measure of success transcends mere academic achievement—it encompasses societal transformation and economic prosperity. “My measure of success would be not only to change a methodology of learning, but also increase the GDP of those nations using it,” he adds.

Nelson’s commitment to transforming education is underscored by its collaborative approach, engaging closely with students and educators to ensure that Edwin remains a powerful and relevant tool. Through a continuous feedback loop, Nelson remains at the forefront of educational innovation, steadfast in its mission to make learning accessible and effective for all.

Empowering Transformation

In the grand scheme of education, the true measure of success lies not in the proliferation of technology, but in the tangible improvement of educational outcomes. As the educational landscape evolves to meet the demands of the 21st century, Brown emphasizes the importance of equipping students with essential skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, and collaboration—attributes vital for success in the modern workplace.

Reflecting on a poignant encounter during a provincial visit, Brown recalls witnessing firsthand the transformative impact of Nelson Education Ltd.’s digital platform, Edwin, on students’ lives. Brown recalls, “One young student got tongue-tied in front of the TV cameras and was unable to answer the questions as a result. Her teacher admirably jumped in and answered the reporters’ questions for her.”

In a more intimate setting, Brown engaged in conversation with the same student, seeking to understand the profound changes Edwin had instigated in her educational journey. “I asked her, what one thing she enjoyed most about Edwin and how it changed her learning journey and school experience. She said there were way too many to only mention one. I encouraged her to think of the ways, and as it was just her and I, and that she should feel free to let me know what it was. She stopped and thought for a few moments and said “Well, perhaps the biggest is that I used to hate school and now I love it.” That will always stick with me,” explains Brown. Such moments reaffirm Brown’s commitment to innovation and excellence in education.

Looking ahead, Brown envisions technology playing an increasingly pivotal role in shaping the future of education and beyond. However, he stresses the importance of vigilance, ensuring that technology serves as an enabler rather than a detractor in the educational journey. “At the very core, technology in the classroom is about being engaging and at the same time, delivering trusted materials to ensure fair and accurate depiction of the content being provided to students,” opines Brown.

Ultimately, it is the stories of transformation—of students discovering joy in learning, of educators igniting a passion for knowledge—that serve as the true testament to the power of education. As Nelson Education Ltd. continues to push the boundaries of innovation, Brown remains steadfast in his commitment to empowering every student to reach their full potential and thrive in an ever-evolving world.

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