Cengage Snaps Up ePortfolio Tool from SF Startup Pathbrite

In a continuing drive to assemble a comprehensive suite of online learning tools for schools, Boston-based edtech company Cengage Learning is adding San Francisco-based startup Pathbrite’s student portfolio feature to its repertoire of acquisitions.

Pathbrite’s product, the Portfolio Learning Platform, allows students to store their completed course assignments, such as essays, artwork, and videos, in a digital folder. Pathbrite had marketed the portfolios as a way to keep young students engaged with their classwork, and to help older students compile credits for college applications as well as for their job searches once they finish college.

Cengage declined to disclose terms of the acquisition in its announcement today, beyond saying that it has acquired the e-portfolio product, but not the Pathbrite company itself. But CEO Michael Hansen says he expects that most of Pathbrite’s staff will join Cengage.

The big Boston company, which has a branch in San Francisco, formed a partnership with Pathbrite and led a $3.7 million investment round for the startup in 2014. Cengage then integrated the Pathbrite portfolio with its MindTap product, which includes more than 650 online courses, online textbooks, and tools that allow students to highlight passages and take notes.

Both MindTap and Pathbrite’s portfolio will be further integrated with technology Cengage acquired with the buyout of Washington, DC-based Learning Objects in September. That acquisition took Cengage closer to its goal of becoming a full-service educational technology provider for colleges and universities, the company said. Terms of the Learning Objects acquisition were not disclosed.

Pathbrite was just one of the tech companies that in recent years have created or hosted alternative forms of educational credentials that go beyond the mere grade transcripts and sheepskins that high schools and higher education institutions provide to students.

Inexpensive Web-based file storage and social media have created openings for individuals to showcase their accomplishments on a more granular level, including work outside of formal school programs. For example, photographers set up their own online galleries through Zenfolio, and programmers can display their coding chops by posting their projects on GitHub. High school students can exhibit their extracurricular activities to impress college admissions officers. Through San Francisco-based AfterCollege, graduates can ease the transition to a first job by creating online profiles that can be viewed by prospective employers. Code schools and other online education enterprises grant certificates or badges that can be included in resumes posted on LinkedIn.

Cengage’s announcement doesn’t spell out what now happens to Pathbrite as a company. Pathbrite CEO Heather Hiles could not be immediately reached for comment, though Cengage provided a written statement attributed to Hiles:

“I am proud of the work we’ve done at Pathbrite to build a best-in-class ePortfolio solution to support student outcomes. At this point in our company’s journey, we wanted to bring our ePortfolio to a larger audience of students. This required additional investment including staff resources. Cengage Learning, as an investor in Pathbrite, was a logical choice and this arrangement allows us to grow and expand our ePortfolio solution.”

Bernadette Tansey is Xconomy's San Francisco Editor. You can reach her at btansey@xconomy.com. Follow @Tansey_Xconomy

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