The Learning Company

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Not to be confused with The Learning Channel.
The Learning Company
Founded 1980
Headquarters Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Key people
Warren Robinett (co-founder)
Parent Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The Learning Company (TLC) is an American educational software company, currently owned by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It produced a grade-based system of learning software and tools to improve productivity. Products for preschoolers through second graders include Reader Rabbit, and software for more advanced students include The ClueFinders. The company is also known for publishing licensed educational titles featuring characters such as Arthur Read, Scooby-Doo, Caillou, and SpongeBob SquarePants.

Founding and ownership[edit]

The original TLC was founded in 1980 by Ann McCormick, Leslie Grimm and Teri Perl, three PhD educators who, along with Warren Robinett, a former Atari employee who had programmed the popular game Adventure, saw the Apple II as an opportunity to enhance the ability to teach young children concepts of math, reading, science, problem solving and thinking skills. Part of the original funding for the company came from a National Science Foundation grant. Additional funding was provided by Jack Melchor and Melchor Venture Partners, among others.

TLC was among the four companies IBM contacted to produce launch titles for the PCjr, announced in late 1983.[1] From 1980 through 1984 it created a line of 15 widely acclaimed children's educational software products, which were sold through the newly evolving U.S. retail and school computer software channels.

Early struggles and successful transition period[edit]

During the first four years, the founding board of directors hired and replaced four CEOs as the company incurred significant losses attempting to develop a sustainable business. In the second half of 1985, the product line was consolidated from 15 products down to 5 products. Additionally, an improved and focused new product development process was instituted to identify subjects that parents and teachers named as highest priority for children ages 3-14.

The leading families of products were the "Reader Rabbit" series for ages 2-8, the "Treasure Mountain" Reading-Math-Science series for ages 5-9, the "Super Solver" series for ages 7-12, the "Student Writing & Publishing Center" for ages 7-adult and the "Foreign Language Learning" series for ages 15-adult.

TLC went public on April 28, 1992 in an IPO led by Morgan Stanley and Robertson, Stephens & Co. From 1992 to 1995, TLC achieved 16 consecutive quarters of revenues and profits growth, never experiencing a down quarter or year. TLC’s early struggles, followed by 10 consecutive years of outstanding performance, were the subject of case studies at both Harvard and Stanford universities.

Softkey acquisition[edit]

In 1995, TLC was acquired in an unsolicited transaction by Softkey for $606M, all cash.

Subsequent to the acquisition, TLC was reformed from the merger of WordStar, Spinnaker and SoftKey Software and was relocated from San Francisco and Toronto to Cambridge, MA. Prior to that, SoftKey was a Canadian company that was founded by Kevin O'Leary and traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange. During the years following the three-way merger, the combined company was led by Michael J. Perik as CEO, Kevin O'Leary as President and R. Scott Murray as CFO. The trio of former Canadians together set the course for the next generation in the consumer software industry by making educational software affordable to the average parent and student. The trio led the combination of many leading brands through acquisitions of such companies as Broderbund, MECC, Mindscape, and Creative Wonders. The company held some of the best known educational and office productive brands in the market. These included Reader Rabbit, Carmen Sandiego, The Oregon Trail, Myst, Riven, The Print Shop and PrintMaster. In addition to Perik, O'Leary and Murray, the company was led in sales and international operations by David Patrick and Anthony Bordon, both of whom are now pioneers in the digital media and social media applications industry.

The team led the sale of software in well known retail chains such as Best Buy, Office Depot, Staples and Wal-Mart, in direct mail channels, across Europe and in the OEM channels as well as creating one of the first on-line imaging models in the market. In 1996, SoftKey changed its name to "The Learning Company". In addition, Lamar Alexander joined its board of Directors. Mr. Alexander was a Former Secretary of Education in the George H.W. Bush Administration and a candidate for President of the United States. He is now a Senior Senator representing the State of Tennessee in the United States Congress.

Mattel acquisition and Riverdeep[edit]

In the fall of 1998, Mattel agreed to acquire The Learning Company in a stock-for-stock merger valuing the company at approximately $4.2 billion. In 1999, the company name was changed to Mattel Interactive, which published not only educational games, but licensed titles from brands like Barbie.[2] After some financial struggles, Mattel sold the division to Gores Group in 2000.

In 2001, Gores Group sold the entertainment division of The Learning Company to Ubisoft, and other holdings (including all the Mattel Interactive subsidiaries) to the Irish company Riverdeep, and the catalog was absorbed under the Brøderbund label.[3] Today, The Learning Company is a subsidiary of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and is not producing computer software, instead focusing on educational apps for mobile devices, as well as board books and workbooks.

Founders' aftermath[edit]

Following the closing of the merger with Mattel in May 1999, the trio of Perik, O'Leary and Murray departed the company shortly thereafter to begin leading other enterprises. Kevin O'Leary became a well-known financial television commentator in Canada, a panelist on the reality show Dragon's Den in Canada and a panelist on the ABC series Shark Tank. He also founded O'Leary Funds.


Alternate TLC logo used from the mid-1990s until 2007.

Reader Rabbit/The ClueFinders series[edit]


Super Solvers series[edit]

Super Seekers games[edit]

Carmen Sandiego series[edit]

Other games[edit]

  • Tools and other programs
    • All-Star Typing
    • Read, Write, and Type
    • MetroGnomes' Music
    • The Children's Writing & Publishing Center
    • The Writing Center
    • Student Writing Center
  • Other early educational programs
    • Magic Spells
    • Bumble Games
    • Bumble Plot
    • Moptown Hotel
    • Moptown Parade
    • Wordspinner
    • Juggles' Rainbow
    • Juggles' House
  • Starflyers series
    • Starflyers: Royal Jewel Rescue
    • Starflyers: Alien Space Chase


  1. ^ Wiswell, Phil (1984-01-24). "Coming Soon: Games For The PCjr". PC. pp. 142–145. Retrieved 26 January 2015. 
  2. ^ "Mattel Interactive". IGN Games Newsletter. Retrieved 2 September 2014. 
  3. ^ "Mattel Interactive France / TLC-Edusoft". Moby Games. Retrieved 2 September 2014. 

External links[edit]