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Aplia Inc. is an educational technology company founded in 2000 by Stanford University professor Paul Romer that offers online homework products geared toward college-level courses. In March 2007 Cengage Learning (formerly Thomson Learning) acquired Aplia Inc. Aplia was based in Belmont, California until March 2014, when it relocated to Cengage Learning's new Mission Bay, San Francisco office. Cengage has faced an uphill battle in convincing colleges that its online learning platform can overcome the distance it creates between the teacher and student, this is reflected in the stalled growth and bankruptcy Engage started facing in 2008.[citation needed]


In 1998, Romer created an online experiment system for use in his economics courses at Stanford University so his students would come to class better prepared and become more engaged with the course material. After other professors expressed interest in his approach, Romer decided to turn this system into the basis for a new company. He raised $10 million in venture capital to start Aplia, an online learning system. Since 2000, it has been used by over 4,300 professors, 1,200,000 students, at 1,300 colleges and universities worldwide.[1]


Aplia’s basic product includes online homework assignments that professors can assign to students in accounting, business communication, business law, developmental reading, economics, finance, marketing, philosophy, statistics, and taxation. While the basic premise behind each course is the same, course materials vary; in many cases, Aplia problem sets are designed to complement specific textbook from a variety of the leading publishers.[2]

Aplia support representatives set up and edit courses per the professor's schedule. Assignment types include problem sets, news analyses, tutorials, and (for economics) interactive market experiments.[citation needed]

Aplia is often integrated with textbooks from different publishers. Aplia's questions are written by content experts in their respective fields and the problem sets match the tone, difficulty level, style, of the textbook. Aplia works with publishers, authors, and contributors, and many users believe the quality is decent.[3][4]

In terms of pricing, many of Aplia's products have a low-cost digital textbook as well as Aplia. In the Friday, May 9 issue of The Washington Post, author Steven Pearlstein writes: "Aplia also paves the way for the textbook industry to ditch a lousy business model in which it has to charge ridiculously high prices for new books because it cannot collect anything from the students who buy them on the used-book market. Instead, publishers could move to a more sustainable model in which the textbook is priced close to the cost of printing and shipping (say, $20), while all students are charged a reasonable fee (say, $60) for what really matters, which is the content of the textbook, the labs and homework exercises."[4]

Research has also shown Aplia to be less effective in the classroom for students who require an indepth relationship with the teacher. Studies are surfacing to find online learning to be another challenge that students must overcome in order to learn a subject they might be unfamiliar with. Some anecdotal evidence has been found that schools administration have found value in the micromanagement software features that Aplia offers, especially with keeping students on track with their assignments and increasing engagement and participation in the classroom.[5][6]

Aplia features[edit]

Chapter assignments and problem sets[edit]

Chapter assignments (or problem sets)--groups of questions based on each chapter of a textbook—are automatically graded and provide students with explanations for every question. All problems are randomized and written by a team of subject matter experts. Most assignments use "Grade It Now" technology. Students are given three attempts on each problem; if they don't like their score after their first attempt, they may try a second time; if they don’t like their score after two, they may try a third; they don't have to use all three attempts. Scores are averaged.

News analyses[edit]

In economics and finance, Aplia regularly features economics and finance articles from new sources. Each story includes a summary and follow-up questions.


For economics, Aplia offers real-time, online market experiments to help students understand what the real market environment is like. Each experiment is supported by assignments that prepare students for this and help them analyze their results. These experiments have had proven success in the classroom as well—according to research, Aplia's methods provide college students with means to truly learn the material.[7]


All of Aplia's courses use multimedia to pique students' interest. Developmental Reading, for instance, uses audio so students can hear how vocabulary words are pronounced; Logic uses interactive Venn diagrams, truth tables, and natural deduction proofs so students keep learning the material hands-on.[8][9]

Assessment and grading[edit]

Aplia keeps instructors informed about student participation, progress, and real-time graphical reports. Instructors can download, save, manipulate, print, import, and export student grades. Gradebook Analytics allow instructors to monitor and address performance on a student-by-student and topic-by-topic basis.

Course management system[edit]

Instructors can post announcements, upload course materials, host student discussions, e-mail students, and manage their gradebook with Aplia’s course management system. Aplia works independently or in conjunction with other course management systems.

Aplia criticism[edit]

Additional course fees and registration fees[edit]

Students are charged (per course) additional registration fees on top of their home institutions tuition or per unit fees. This may amount to more than the parent institution's total cost for the entire course when including materials fees. This has been regarded by some to be a "troubling lack of transparency regarding the total net costs associated with getting a college degree."[10]

Social media[edit]

The Facebook account for Cengage has received little to no attention from the company with online user groups complaining that the company is negligent in addressing a whole stack of technology challenges they are struggling to solve. Students have reported issues with locked accounts, software incompatibility, frozen screens and being forced to step through multiple screens to accomplish what one will do.

The Yelp account contains a series of particularly scathing reviews, with 21 reviews all giving one out of five stars... yet there has been little to no response from within the company to address with the students facing these issues.[citation needed]

Teaching vs telling[edit]

Students have raised many concerns that the coursework writing is written in a difficult to understand and hard to follow voice. They are being tested on minute aspects of lectures given online that often are in conflict with what their professor has said in class. Aplia has become a platform that instructors love because it decreases the world they have to do as instructors and moves them to processing data vs teaching students who struggle to understand complex issues. SAppltudents are paying thousands of dollars to be taught a subject only to sit in front of an instructor who refers to the online reading which doesn't teach them... it just gives info without comprehension.[citation needed]

Outsourcing jobs[edit]

In 2015 several employees were asked to gather in the main conference room where a tactic of "psychological divide and conquer" separated the employees into the first of many days and weeks of learning that not only was their job being sent overseas that they would be shadowed by their replacement whom they would train.

One employee told Computer World "The employees were warned that speaking to the news media meant loss of severance" Once the story broke the company ignored media contacts and plowed ahead on a double down strategy of cutting costs and pressuring employees vs focusing on a total quality management strategy that was recommended by members of the Board and its Founder.[11]

Other e-learning platforms[edit]


  1. ^ http://www.aplia.com/company
  2. ^ http://www.aplia.com
  3. ^ http://amplicate.com/hate/aplia
  4. ^ a b "Steven Pearlstein - An Economist, an Academic Puzzle and a Lot of Promise". www.washingtonpost.com. 
  5. ^ Caplan, Arthur J.; Gilbert, John (21 November 2008). "‘D’ is for dilly-dally?". Applied Economics Letters. 15 (14): 1085–1088. doi:10.1080/13504850600993663 – via Taylor and Francis+NEJM. 
  6. ^ http://www.aplia.com/company/press/ael_010107.jsp
  7. ^ Johnson, Paul R. (1 March 2005). "Conducting a Double Oral Auction Experiment in a High School Computer Lab: A Pilot Study". SSRN 708841Freely accessible. 
  8. ^ http://www.aplia.com/developmentalreading
  9. ^ "Aplia". www.aplia.com. 
  10. ^ "Should Students Pay to Submit Homework? Publishers Think So". 
  11. ^ Thibodeau, Patrick. "Fury and fear in Ohio as IT jobs go to India". computerworld.com. 

External links[edit]