Thursday, June 01, 2006

Houghton Acquires Skills Tutor

Houghton Mifflin bought Achievement Technologies this week for $18.5M. It 's not clear this is a good deal. AT sells Skills Tutor, which is a good, solid program. The market for its offerings is large--HM probably figures it can generate at least $60MM annually in sales with the product. Skills Tutor is a Flash-enabled set of curriculum spanning K-HS. It is well architected, and although it has some subtle failings in both UI design and Human-Computer interaction. Its remediation mechanisms and administrative tools leave something to be desired. Here's my rating on the product:

UI Design
Total Score

In general, I like this product--it's in the top third of all products I've reviewed. And it is clear why HM acquired them. Because Skills Tutor has an extensive set of programs spanning K-10, it makes HM competitive on breadth with River Deep, Plato and Pearson. What isn't clear is that HM will be able to sell and maintain the product. Houghton bought one of my favorite math products, Larson Learning, last year. I tried to license it for my programs this year, but it was a disaster. Larson got no technical support from Houghton, and no one in sales knew very much about the product, or how to deploy it. In the end, the technical issues were so great that we didn't use the product, even though from previous experience, I was convinced it was effective. Clearly Larson simply threw their product over the wall to Houghton. Thankfully Houghton refunded our money. But if they treat Skills Tutor the same way, it will become another case instance of a good technology that challenged the organizational competency of a major textbook publisher.

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