Cengage SAM vs. Pearson MyITLab: Microsoft Office Curriculum Showdown Blog Feature
Sarah Layton

By: Sarah Layton on September 21st, 2017

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Cengage SAM vs. Pearson MyITLab: Microsoft Office Curriculum Showdown

Cengage SAM | Computer Applications | Pearson MyITLab | Microsoft Office

Microsoft Office is the world’s most popular corporate product. It’s the gold standard for computer-based workplace productivity.

That’s why it’s so important to teach Microsoft Office to students of all ages.

But how can you teach the full suite? Microsoft Office includes big-name programs like:

  • Word
  • Excel
  • PowerPoint
  • Access
  • Publisher
  • Outlook

The answer lies in a digital curriculum.

The Cengage Skill Assessment Manager (SAM) and Pearson MyITLab are two of the most widely-used Microsoft Office curriculum developers.

Choosing between them is a major decision, and it’s even harder if you haven’t used a digital curriculum before.

That’s why we tested both options side by side.

This is the Microsoft Office curriculum showdown: Cengage SAM vs. Pearson MyITLab.

Cengage SAM’s Microsoft Office Curriculum


Cengage SAM bills itself as a “premier” curriculum resource that can work with a variety of teachers and students.

That’s because SAM covers lots of different parts of Microsoft Office, including:

  • Basic functions
  • Readings
  • Training
  • Projects
  • Exams
  • Study center
  • Support

This layout shows the simple path Cengage hopes students will walk as they learn Microsoft Office.

Students start by learning foundational information.

Then, they read about the products more in-depth.

That’s followed by training to let students practice their Microsoft Skills.

Then, students complete projects through prompts that let them apply those skills.

Finally, SAM tests students’ knowledge with an exam.

At any point in a student’s journey, they can use the SAM study center as well, which better prepares them for success.

Of course, Cengage is always available for customer support as well.

That’s a comprehensive overview of what Cengage SAM offers students with its Microsoft Office curriculum.

But before you decide to buy, let’s take a look at SAM’s student experience.

Cengage SAM’s Student Experience


Just like Cengage promises, students walk through a step-by-step process that teaches them everything from the bottom-up.

This is similar to the process of scaffolding, which is proven to be an effective teaching technique.

This incremental instruction is crucial to a student’s long-term information retention.

But information is only half the battle.

To truly engage students, they should see an interesting, eye-catching design that makes them want to read more.

Instead, Cengage SAM provides a clean-yet-drab student interface.

02.1-cengage-sam-UI-screenshot.pngAgain, the information is there — but its presentation leaves something to be desired.

The experience improves from there, though. Pre-made lessons come with more colorful and engaging designs that keep students working.

They also come with lesson voiceovers and closed captioning so students can hear instruction as they read.

This is a smart feature since it can help students who learn differently from most — like IEP students. By combining textual and verbal instruction, any student can learn what’s being taught.

Once they’ve gone through a lesson, students are prompted with an exam.

These are not typical exams though — they’re based on skill applications

So take this sample exam from Excel. The exam is a list of tasks to perform in an Excel workbook — not a list of multiple-choice questions.


SAM doesn’t do everything for student experience, though. There’s a lot left to the instructor.

That includes the number of exam attempts, the time limit for those exams, exploration options, and even the contents for individual assignments.

As a result, Cengage SAM is not a plug-and-play solution to education.

Instead, it’s an online blended learning tool that helps teachers take control of their classrooms as students learn.

Cengage also considers that while most Microsoft users will run a computer on Windows, some may use Apple computers.

That’s why SAM also contains special instructions for Apple customers.

Altogether, Cengage SAM Microsoft Office curriculum is a powerful and comprehensive tool.

The user interface leaves something to be desired, but the information is top-notch and up-to-date.

Plus, it allows teachers to modify pre-made lessons to better fit individual needs.

To learn more about the Cengage SAM curriculum, you can check out one of their demo videos.

Who Should Use Cengage SAM?


Works best for: General elective classes, Microsoft Certification courses

Cengage SAM works best as an elective or general education curriculum.

It doesn’t go down any specific CTE path, and it doesn’t require any previous knowledge to help students.

It’s a great way for everyone to start from the same point and end at the same point. You can even use it for Microsoft Office certification courses.

Pearson MyITLab’s Microsoft Office Curriculum


Pearson MyITLab differentiates itself right away by standing out to information technology students and teachers.

In other words, this software is much more specialized than Cengage SAM. However, MyITLab contains similar information and lessons on Microsoft Office.

So even if you don’t teach information technology, you could still use Pearson MyITLab to teach Microsoft skills.  

Still, context is important in any lesson. Teaching Microsoft Office from an IT perspective can be different from teaching it as an elective.

But if you teach IT courses, this could be right up your alley!

MyITLab’s biggest selling point is that it’s basically a textbook, but it’s online. It famously “matches your Volume 1 textbook content 1:1,” meaning there’s no difference between your book and the online product from a content standpoint.

MyITLab also includes:

  • Automatic grader
  • HTML5 simulations of Microsoft Office
  • Online-only use (no downloads)
  • ADA 508 compliance
  • Achievement badging
  • Product-only communication tools
  • Instructor customization

They even offer a shot of their teacher dashboard so you can know what to expect from their product.


But that’s just one menu. Instructors have access to multiple menus that are designed differently.


With that, instructors get a variety of menus that help them get their classes together.

But this only covers instructors.

What about the student experience?

Pearson MyITLab’s Student Experience


Overall, the student experience of Pearson MyITLab is focused on information.

The student interface is pretty straightforward. It looks a little washed, but its simple layout makes it easy to read and follow.


It’s important to remember that all of MyITLab’s interactions with Microsoft products are simulated.

That means your students aren’t actually using a Microsoft Office product that was installed to their computers.

Instead, they’re using an Internet-based duplication with the same functionality.

Pearson uses this system so students can access their lessons from anywhere — even if they’re sick!

But it also creates a huge vulnerability.

If MyITLab’s service is interrupted, you can’t continue with printed out lessons on Microsoft Word or Excel.

You’re down and out entirely.

So as long as the Internet service holds out in your classroom, you’re good to go.

But if you’re subject to frequent outages (and if Pearson itself experiences an outage), you’re out of luck!

Who Should Use Pearson MyITLab?


Works best for: Information technology classes

Pearson MyITLab works best for IT students.

That’s probably not a surprise, given the name of “MyITLab.”

It’s also not to say this program can’t work for elective classes.

But the context of Pearson’s product is entirely based on information technology.

As a result, it works best with information technology students.

Why Are We Qualified to Review SAM and MyITLab?


So after all of this, why should you care about our analysis?

We develop our own Microsoft Office curriculum according to our own teaching strategy, the Four Phases.

We’ve gone through the work, drafting, and refinement that’s required to produce a high-quality educational product specifically for Microsoft Office.

In fact, we’ve done it for every version of Microsoft Office since 2010!

As a result, we know Microsoft products extremely well. We’re proud of our product, and we’ve learned what makes it great.

We’ve also learned what makes a Microsoft Office curriculum fail.

So in a nutshell, this review comes from people who know Microsoft Office and educational software.

In our opinion, both Cengage SAM and Pearson MyITLab have their advantages and disadvantages depending on who you teach.

Actually, we believe that they work for two completely different groups of people.

We believe our time spent in Microsoft Office curriculum development gives us the background we need for a credible analysis.

We also understand that you’ll probably want to see what we’ve done for yourself — even if you just want to make sure we know what we’re talking about.

So if you want to see what we’ve done, you can look at our product — Business&ITCenter21 — for yourself!

Check Out Business&ITCenter21 >


About Sarah Layton

Sarah is a contributing author to the AES blog. She is committed to helping instructors and students succeed both in and out of the classroom.