Encyclopaedia Britannica at 250 — Globally Trusted Digital Learning Company Continues to Transform Education
1.18.18 Innovative Technologies

Encyclopaedia Britannica at 250 — Globally Trusted Digital Learning Company Continues to Transform Education

By: Jon McDonald

The Crunch: For 250 years, Encyclopaedia Britannica has been imparting knowledge to those who use its products. As technology evolves, so have Britannica’s strategies and product channels. It has expanded beyond reference books to comprehensive educational materials for today’s tech-savvy, K-12 students and teachers. The company also provides professional-readiness training for the defense and civil aviation industries through its Britannica Knowledge Systems. It is all part of a strategy to help students learn better and professionals be better prepared.

Many business professionals remember using a set of encyclopedias when they were young students. If they needed to know more about a subject — any subject — they would open up the corresponding volume in the multibook set to learn more about it.

But as technology advanced so did the way people interacted with reference materials. Research became typing questions into a search bar, not opening a book to take a deeper dive into a subject.

Photo of Britannica CEO Karthik Krishnan

Britannica CEO Karthik Krishnan spoke with us about how the company is expanding its digital media presence.

As a widely famous maker of reference materials, Britannica had to evolve its business model to align with the rapid adoption of digital technologies. The company has innovated new ways to maintain its commitment to academia while also branching out into other areas, including training platforms for companies in high-skill industries.

“We are in an excellent position to take advantage of what’s happening in the educational and training spaces and to facilitate transformation,” said Britannica CEO Karthik Krishnan. “Given the global push to transform education and the eroding public trust in the quality and veracity of information on the Internet, the time is now for Team Britannica to join forces with consumers and the public and private entities to make a positive difference.”

This “positive difference” includes enabling and educating not only students and teachers in the classroom but also professionals at companies like American and United Airlines through its training management systems. Britannica is branching out into the industries that need trusted information to help people learn, train, and excel.

Britannica has assembled a learning brand ecosystem that includes the award-winning Merriam-Webster, the well-known dictionary, and Melingo, which offers products and services based on natural language processing of complex Semitic languages such as Hebrew and Arabic.

As a company that has been in business for nearly 250 years, Encyclopaedia Britannica is adapting to changes in learning to remain an educational resource well into the future. Its mission is to offer the most trusted learning solutions in and out of the classroom.

From Print to Web: Celebrating 250 Years of Imparting Knowledge

Encyclopaedia Britannica is a global company that is older than the United States. The company was founded in 1768 and produced exclusively printed reference materials until the 1980s, when it created the first digital encyclopedia (for LexisNexis) in 1981, the first multimedia CD in 1989, and the first encyclopedia on the Internet in 1994.

Its last print encyclopedia edition was published in 2012, and, by then, the company had established a web presence and was well down the path to diversifying its digital resources. The company’s consumer-facing online properties are incredibly popular around the globe.

Banner for Encyclopaedia Britannica 250th Anniversary Edition

Encyclopaedia Britannica offers a 250th Anniversary Edition — its last printed yearbook — to commemorate its history.

“We attract more than 4 billion views a year,” Karthik said. “We provide many different educational experiences to users coming to our many sites: Britannica, Merriam-Webster, and Melingo, which is a specialty brand for English-language learners.”

The company is diversifying its reach and expertise through its brands, with the goal of satisfying the educational needs of students, teachers, and professionals around the world. That means competing in key areas that will help the business grow.

One focus has been on providing intuitive training and operational materials for businesses and government agencies through Britannica Knowledge Systems.

BKS Helps Companies in Specialized Industries Train Employees

Managing training operations, materials, and schedules can become burdensome for any business, but the challenge hits specialized industries much harder. In response, Britannica Knowledge Systems designed the Fox Training Management System for civil aviation, defense, security, and other corporate environments with complex training demands.

In the civil aviation industry, precise performance is a necessity and workers at every level of the operation — from ground crew to pilot — need to have the proper qualifications, certifications, and safety training.

Fox allows companies to run all training management and scheduling through one platform, keeping businesses running smoothly and winning awards for innovative programs.

“We are working with a number of top civil aviation companies — American Airlines, United Airlines — as well as with NASA and its astronauts,” Karthik said. “There is a need for making sure that everyone in the operation is fully trained to proactively handle critical situations like accident prevention and safety.”

This initiative represents Britannica’s expansion into an area where educational materials and proactive training were needed. And Fox is not the only piece of the company’s portfolio of educational solutions that is making an impact. It also just launched a sophisticated system called The Optimizerwhich facilitates the highest level of scheduling efficiency in the aviation industry.

Digitally Engaging Learning Solutions for K-12 Teachers and Students

Britannica also continues to design products to develop learning skills and inspire curiosity in K-12 students, and it builds those products for today’s sophisticated digital environment. Students use many different sources — especially online — to find information, which increases the odds of relying on inaccurate or incomplete materials.

“When I was a kid, I used to just learn from a trusted source such as Britannica or Reader’s Digest, but, today, kids learn from many different sources. The quality and veracity of the information could be a hit or a miss,” said Karthik. “On many topics, Britannica offers the best vetted information on the Internet for the general reader, and our goal is to link or embed this trusted information into student lives by better integrating this content with their curriculum and media preferences.”

Today’s teaching environment required the company to transition from a reference to an instructional and educational focus. Working with teachers, Britannica brought in more tools to help students learn the curriculum and subject areas. The focus is not only on making the material factually accurate but also easily understood and engaging. The company built its K-12 educational products around three important aspects: user experience and outcomes, content, and technology.

Screenshot of Britannica LaunchPacks

Britannica’s LaunchPacks help educators go beyond the prescribed curriculum and helps students learn more intuitively.

“Our newest classroom initiative, LaunchPacks, offers supplemental information and material needed in science and the social sciences,” said Karthik. “It saves teachers time and enables students to enjoy learning through a number of interactive exercises.”

As teachers become even more sophisticated, they’re using more digital resources in the classroom and moving away from following just the school-issued curriculum. Now, they’re looking at supplemental materials, and Britannica’s products allow those educators to satisfy students’ additional learning needs.

“Teachers are becoming coaches and mind benders, not just instruction providers. They help kids navigate through the digital reams of information and the many tools at their disposal,” Karthik said. “One of the trends you find in schools is digital literacy, and both the kids and teachers need to understand how best to leverage those resources to enhance learning.”

Encyclopaedia Britannica Continues to Expand Beyond Reference

Those who need information on myriad subjects have turned to Encyclopaedia Britannica for nearly 250 years — or a bicenquinquagenary as Princeton University has called it. And the company continues to turn its attention to the future as it solidifies and grows its digital media footprint.

As CEO, Karthik said he sees what the company has been able to achieve and wants to make sure that progress continues and accelerates. “We want to build on our capabilities and become the de facto learning destination for generations to come.”

Britannica has been educating people since the 18th century and understands that it must, like all companies, evolve to keep pace with the way people acquire knowledge. “But our overall objective and standards will never change,” adds Karthik. “The first sentence on the first page that Britannica published in 1768 says, ‘Utility ought to be the principal intention of every publication,’ and this imperative to meet the user’s needs is more important today, in the digital world, than ever before. The mediums we work in may have changed, but our mission has not.”

The company has shown its commitment to innovation within the educational, training, and consumer spaces and continues to grow — even after 250 years.