Michael E. Hansen is CEO of Cengage, a global education and technology company. Under Mr. Hansen’s leadership, Cengage has transformed from a print publisher to a digital disruptor. Prior to joining Cengage, he served as CEO of Elsevier Health Sciences, where he developed and implemented a successful print-to-digital transition. As President and CEO of Harcourt Assessment, Mr. Hansen turned an unprofitable testing business into a growing and highly profitable enterprise.
Mr. Hansen holds a Master of Law degree from the University of Bonn in Germany and an MBA from Columbia University. He lives with his wife and three sons in New York City.
How have your educational trajectory and past professional experience shaped your current work?
In Germany I had to pick a very specific path, so I chose law as I felt it would give me more options down the road. I earned a Master of Law degree from the University of Bonn. My legal education gave me a solid foundation in deductive reasoning and also helped me develop my problem-solving skills.
Later, I was drawn to NYC and came to Columbia University to earn an MBA. I learned the power of a first-tier education early on, but I also quickly realized just how few people in the world have access to that opportunity. It’s this knowledge that drives me in my work at Cengage to increase access to affordable, quality learning.
How do you hope your work will change the learning landscape?
Everyone should have an opportunity to learn, but students today face numerous hurdles, one of the biggest being affordability. The cost of textbooks and course materials, though only a part of the overall affordability problem, is nevertheless a significant obstacle for many students. This is a barrier that we’re working to break at Cengage.
Recently, we launched the first subscription service for digital higher education course materials that gives students access to everything they need to learn and cuts the average student spend by half or more. The subscription, called Cengage Unlimited, puts quality education within reach for many, many more students. In fact, the service is expected to save U.S. college students $60 million this first academic year alone.
This was a radical change for our industry and a calculated risk for the company as it forced us to disrupt the company’s nearly 100-year-old business model. It was not an easy change, and certainly not one that could have been made without having a strong company culture. Since I first started at Cengage, building a solid culture has been one of my primary goals, and it’s been a key factor in our ability to achieve business success while also improving learning for millions of students.
What broad trends do you think will have the most impact on learning in the years ahead?
It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of the latest trendy technologies. The reality is that most students don’t have access to these tools because they cannot afford them. The majority of college students today are not the traditional students many of us picture; they are often older, working and balancing numerous responsibilities and financial obligations.
We have to address the affordability problem first, but I think in the future the focus will be on micro-degrees and shorter, just-in-time educational experiences of great impact. In the long term, I think artificial intelligence will have a substantial impact on learning.
What are you currently working on and what is your next big project?
Our work to make quality learning more affordable and accessible through Cengage Unlimited is our big project and main focus in U.S. higher education. Right now, after our first semester, we have more than 500,000 subscribers, and we want millions of students to eventually be part of our digital learning ecosystem. We’re also working to expand the value of Cengage Unlimited by providing additional services to students, partly by bringing on more learning services partners (like Kaplan, Chegg, Quizlet, and more) to give students tutoring, test prep, and study help as part of their subscription. Globally, we are working to expand our English language teaching business under our National Geographic brand. Learning English is, for many students, the gateway to a better life.
Who are the most interesting people you follow on Twitter? Who do you recommend we feature in New Learning Times?
I am not on Twitter personally, but our company is very active on this and other social media channels. That said, I pay close attention to institutions that are doing innovative things such as Arizona State University, Southern New Hampshire University, and Western Governors University. There has been some news around universities that use an income-share agreement model to make education more affordable and accessible. I think it will be interesting to see how this model is received.
Image: Courtesy of Cengage