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The Learning Company

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, Scooby-Doo, Zoboomafoo, and Caillou.

The Learning Company
Founded1980; 38 years ago (1980) (as The Learning Co.)
Palo Alto, California, U.S.
FoundersAnn McCormick
Leslie Grimm
Teri Perl
HeadquartersBoston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Key people
Warren Robinett (co-founder)
ProductsEducational games
ParentHoughton Mifflin Harcourt


Founding and ownershipEdit

The learning company was founded in 1980 by Ann McCormick, Leslie Grimm, Teri Perl, and Warren Robinett, a former Atari employee who had programmed the popular game Adventure. They saw the Apple II as an opportunity 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.

TLC produced 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 U.S. retail and school computer software channels.

In the first half of 1985, with little of the initial investment remaining, the Board hired as CEO Bill Dinsmore, a former McKinsey & Company consultant with a 15-year track record turning around and building high quality consumer product lines. He immediately initiated a "customer-driven" approach to analyze TLC's product offering, improve the effectiveness and engagement of each product, and to identify opportunities to develop new ones.

Shortly after Mr. Dinsmore was hired, Reece Duca, a founding Partner of the Investment Group of Santa Barbara (IGSB), became a member of the Board of Directors and purchased shares from several founders and original venture firms. In late 1986, Mr. Duca was elected Chairman of the Board and for the next decade he devoted a significant amount of his time to help TLC develop and refine a successful business model and strategy for this nascent industry. IGSB became The Learning Company's largest shareholder.

During the 10-year period from 1985 to 1995, TLC's revenues grew at a 36% compounded rate from $2.4M to $53.2M and profitability increased from breakeven in 1985 to a 20% pre-tax margin. 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 acquisitionEdit

In 1995, TLC was acquired by Softkey for $606M.[2]

Subsequent to the acquisition, TLC was reformed from the merger of WordStar, Spinnaker, and SoftKey Software. 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. TLC acquired many leading brands through acquisitions of such companies as Broderbund, Mindscape and Creative Wonders. The company held some of the best-known educational, entertainment and home productivity brands in the market. These included Reader Rabbit, Carmen Sandiego, The Oregon Trail, Myst, Riven, The Print Shop, and PrintMaster.

The software sold in retail chains and in direct mail channels across Europe, and in the OEM channels as well as creating one of the first online imaging models in the market. In 1996, SoftKey changed its name to "The Learning Company".

Mattel acquisition and rapid devaluationEdit

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.

Mattel sold The Learning Company as well as Mattel Interactive in 2000 at a loss to Gores Technology group. The total financial losses to Mattel have been estimated to be as high as $3.6 billion.[3]

Mattel's acquisition of The Learning Company has been referred to as "one of the worst acquisitions of all time" by several prominent business journals.[3][4]

In 2014, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt acquired the Learning Company brand and IP. They released several book sets under the brand umbrella, including Oregon Trail Adventures, The Little Box of Love, and The Little Box of Laughs.[5]


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

Reader Rabbit / The ClueFinders seriesEdit


Super Solvers seriesEdit

Super Seekers gamesEdit

Fisher-Price seriesEdit

  • Fisher-Price: Dream Dollhouse (1995)
  • Fisher-Price: Great Adventures: Castle (1995)
  • Fisher-Price: Great Adventures: Pirate Ship (1996)
  • Fisher-Price: Great Adventures: Wild Western Town (1997)
  • Fisher-Price: Big Action Garage (1998)
  • Fisher-Price: Big Action Construction (1998)
  • Fisher-Price: Time to Play Dollhouse (1998)
  • Fisher-Price: Time to Play Pet Shop (1999)
  • Fisher-Price: Outdoor Adventures: Ranger Trail (1999)
  • Fisher-Price: Rescue Heroes: Hurricane Havoc (1999)
  • Fisher-Price: Toddler (1999)
  • Fisher-Price: Preschool (1999)
  • Fisher-Price: Kindergarten (1999)

Carmen Sandiego seriesEdit

MindPower seriesEdit

  • Mind Power Math: Basic Math
  • Mind Power Math: High School
  • Mind Power Math: Pre Algebra
  • Mind Power Math: Calculus
  • Mind Power Math: Geometry
  • Mind Power Math: Algebra 2
  • Mind Power Math: Middle School
  • Mind Power Science Grades 7-12
  • Mind Power Science: Biology, Light & Electricity

Trail seriesEdit

Other gamesEdit

  • Prince of Persia 3D (1999)
  • Real World series
    • Operation Neptune (1991)
      • Note: This game was eventually added to the Super Solvers series.
    • Time Riders in American History
    • Math For The Real World
  • Adventure/puzzle games
  • Achieve! games
    • Achieve! Math & Science: Grades 1-3
    • Achieve! Phonics, Reading & Writing: Grades 1-3
    • Achieve! Math & Science: Grades 3-6
    • Achieve! Writing & Language Arts Grades 3-6
  • Tools and other programs
    • All-Star Typing
    • The American Girls Premiere
    • Read, Write, and Type
    • MetroGnomes' Music
    • The Children's Writing & Publishing Center
    • The Writing Center
    • Student Writing Center
  • Starflyers series
    • Starflyers: Royal Jewel Rescue
    • Starflyers: Alien Space Chase
  • PBS Kids series
    • Caillou's Magic Playhouse
    • Caillou's Four Seasons of Fun
    • Caillou's Party Fun and Games
    • Zoboomafoo Animal Alphabet
    • Zoboomafoo Creature Quest
    • Jay Jay the Jet Plane: Jay Jay Earns his Wings
    • Jay Jay the Jet Plane: Sky Heroes to the Rescue
    • Cyberchase: Carnival Chaos
    • Cyberchase: Castleblanca Quest
  • Other early educational programs
    • Magic Spells
    • Bumble Games
    • Bumble Plot
    • Moptown Hotel
    • Moptown Parade
    • Wordspinner
    • Juggles' Rainbow
    • Juggles' House
    • SpongeBob SquarePants Typing
    • Ultimate Children's Encyclopedia


  1. ^ Wiswell, Phil (January 24, 1984). "Coming Soon: Games For The PCjr". PC. pp. 142–145. Retrieved January 26, 2015.
  2. ^ "Softkey Reaches Agreement to Buy Learning Company". 8 December 1995. Retrieved 19 January 2017.
  3. ^ a b Cave, Andrew (September 30, 2000). "Mattel sale ends $3.6bn fiasco". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved October 11, 2015.
  4. ^ Rosenbush, Steve (October 4, 2007). "When Big Deals Go Bad—and Why". Bloomberg. Retrieved October 11, 2015.
  5. ^ Ginns, Russell (September 11, 2014). "Book Set Review: "The Little Box of Love"".

External linksEdit