Macmillan Education

Last week’s post on GoalBook raised the question of how educational publishers are approaching digital products for students who need accommodations. The final big educational publisher we will look at, Macmillan Education, and their work to digitize their products sheds more light on this discussion. In contrast to the other big publishers we’ve examined–Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt–Macmillan Education’s materials aren’t targeted to the general population of K-12 students or teachers. While Macmillan publishes curriculum development materials, their expertise is on English Language Learning materials. With their headquarters in Oxford, UK, they also have a concentrated focus on international markets.

Regardless of their focus, Macmillan shows the same dedication to advancing their materials with technology as the other big companies: on their website, they explain that their Digital Publishing Unit is “at the centre of our publishing plans.”

To answer the needs of their international market, Macmillan’s approach to technology must differ from some of the more advanced, all-encompassing and, most importantly, expensive products being developed by Pearson or McGraw-Hill. This is evident with Macmillan’s recent partnership with South African app company Snapplify. The two companies came together to produce an eBook app for South African schools, schools that don’t have the influx of technology in their classrooms as some of the American schools for which Pearson and McGraw-Hill create their products. In Macmillan SA’s eReader app, shown below, students can highlight text, look up words and take notes.

Macmillan SA's eReader app

Macmillan SA’s eReader app

Because the schools Macmillan is creating these products for don’t have the resources available to provide each student with tablets or even individual computers, any digital products they adopt must account for this and still be effective. To do this, Snapplify and Macmillan utilize cloud technology so students can access their personal learning materials and notes from any device when they log on with their unique credentials. In a press release, digital publisher at Macmillan SA Malcolm Seegers explains: “This is a perfect solution for emerging markets where not all students are handed an individual tablet, sometimes one device is shared among 5-10 learners.”

This describes not only international schools, but many US schools as well, and more companies need to follow Macmillan’s lead in trying to make technology accessible and innovative for these audiences.


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Just as Pearson put Penguin in new hands and McGraw-Hill sold off the educational side of their business this past year, the third of the Big Three educational publishers has also experienced some recent business restructuring. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) filed with the SEC this past August to offer public shares of their company, and a little over a year before, they filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

In Education Week’s article on how the Big Three are adapting with technology previously discussed here, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Executive Vice President of Content Development and Publishing Operation Bethlam Forsa discusses how the company aims to restructure learning with their digital products. Forsa explains that they are moving away from books and approaching content in more “modular” ways. She says “the company is aiming to slice and dice standards-based digital curricula into the smallest teachable units and offer them across any type of technology or device.”

This approach is shown through their print products, such as their Every Day Counts math products that stress the importance of learning activities performed outside the classroom. The company has wisely taken note that tablets and apps allow this philosophy to be applied easier and more appearing to students than the CD-ROM they offer their Practice Counts math lessons on. HMH offers a variety of apps on multiple platforms, from iOS to Nook to Amazon Kids’ apps.

The company also offers a variety of eTextbooks that look more like apps than traditional books, shown below with their US Government eTextbook.

HMH's US Government eTextbook looks more like an app than a book.

HMH’s US Government eTextbook

As we’ve seen with Pearson and McGraw-Hill Education, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is working to provide students with a more personalized learning experience through their digital products. Education Week’s article offers the company’s new Fuse math products as an example of the adaptive new materials HMH is creating. Forsa notes that future products will be “even more interactive,” with built-in assessments and features that adapt to a particular student’s best learning style. If he or she responds better to videos or games, educational material will adapt to provide them.

In order to better track students’ usage and educational needs, HMH is taking a route that the other big educational publishers are taking: a focus on data anlysis. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt recently acquired Marlborough-based company Choice Solutions Inc. Linda Zecher, chief executive at HMH, explains that the partnership will “allow us to provide a truly comprehensive learning solution based on rigorous instruction and scientific analysis.”

Regardless of the company’s past struggles, it’s clear technology is a main part of their restructure. As the company works to modulate their content into smaller bits and pieces, their apps and app-like materials will help restructure the way teachers and students approach education.

Weekly Watch: Oct. 20 – Oct. 26, 2013

Image by bplanet from
Image by bplanet from

Weekly Watch: October 20 – October 26, 2013


Scholastic appeared twice on the Weekly Watch twice last week with their innovative digital products: Publishing Perspectives touched on their use of interactive white boards to teach English to Chinese and other international students. On the same day, Digital Book World featured a press release from Scholastic on their new Book Fair app. While the former is intriguing and shows the breadth of uses for digital educational products (as well as Scholastic’s focus of the fourth educational publishing market mentioned in this blog’s introductory post, English language learning materials), it is the latter that deserves our main attention and that offers a glimpse into the digital future of not just educational publishing, but of the entire industry.

Scholastic remained the 10th largest publisher in 2013 and leads the market in both selling and distributing children’s books. Publishers Weekly notes a shift in Scholastic’s business model after fiscal year 2011, when the company demonstrated a more concentrated focus on educational publishing by creating a Classroom and Supplemental Materials Publishing division, one previously within their Educational Technology and Services division. President of Scholastic International Shane Armstrong noted this shift in a recent discussion of the company’s educational publishing presence in China: “Scholastic isn’t just a publisher any more—we’re moving into educational solutions.”

Scholastic is not only using technology to create new roles for itself in the publishing industry, but adding value to its already established role in children’s publishing. Scholastic’s book fairs are a staple in schools across the nation. They currently have more than 40 book fairs scheduled in each of the 50 states and D.C.; North Caroline alone has 1,050. This past week, Scholastic released their new book fair app, an incredible example of what all publishers need to be doing with technology. Their app shows the future of digital reading and all that it can offer. Scholastic offers the following promotional video of the app with their press release:

Soon, we should all be able to scan titles in our local bookstores (assuming, hopefully, they will still exist) and link to podcasts, videos, peer reviews and other related information. This is the value publishers can add in the digital world: seamless access to a variety of contextual media and other content related to their books and products. Publishing has always been a content delivery system, and in the new digital age, publishers must deliver new forms of content that highlight the context of their products.

By offering students direct access to peer reviews of the books they read, Scholastic’s app encourages to engage in a digital, social reading of their books, a kind of reading that will be applicable to their generation. Growing up with Facebook and Twitter, the current and future students will be accustomed to posting their comments online with others, virtually discussing their thoughts and opinions through a computer screen. By reaching children through a medium in which they feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, teachers can make reading relevant and approachable to students. Also, by teaching children to seek peer reviews of their books online, Scholastic’s app is teaching them early how to filter through all the noise they will encounter online. We learn to identify credible sources in scholarly contexts, but the future generations will need to learn to identify credible sources online to deal with the influx of information available to them.

Scholastic’s Book Fair app also has obvious implications on how students and parents discover children’s books. In my E-Publishing course, we discussed discoverability this week and did group research on how readers find what to read. The majority of people my group surveyed found their reading material online, and publishers should take note of how seamless and rich Scholastic is making this process for children and their parents.

Also to note is Scholastic’s Storia and eReading app.  Scholastic had a tent at the National Book Fair this past September that featured e-read-alouds with their Storia eReading app. When I stopped by the tent, a small group of children were gathered on blankets and bean bags chairs in front of a large screen that was “reading” a story to them. Each page of the book appeared on screen at a time, the text in large font with pictures over certain words, while audio read the story aloud. As the audio read each word, the word was highlighted on screen so students could follow along. This is an important feature of the program that Beth Bacon at Digital Book World discussed last week.

At first, the children at the National Book Fair e-read-aloud seemed disengaged with the screen. Several were distracted by festival goers and others were talking to those around them, but as I looked closer, I noticed that many were fixated on the screen and following the story closely. They were engaged, as if they were watching a movie, but they were actually learning fundamental reading skills. In fact, Scholastic’s digital story-time can increase the effectiveness of reading instruction. In her post on the benefits of digital reading for children, Beth Bacon notes “The research demonstrates that as words light up in time with the spoken voice of a recorded announcer, children look at the text for a longer amount of time than when they listen to a caregiver reading aloud.”

As the leading children’s publisher, Scholastic has great influence over how children find what to read and how they will read in the future. Scholastic recognizes the great potential technology can bring to reading and they’ve dedicated their business efforts to be more involved in the educational content, products and services that surround reading.