Digital Education Watch: Conclusion

Image by nirots from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image by nirots from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

While technology has, and will continue to, change trade, scholarly and other segments of publishing in exciting ways, its impact on educational publishing will change the way students learn and, consequently, the way our society will operate in the future. This blog chose to focus specifically on the K-12 educational publishing segment’s shift from print to digital because of the incredible influence this shift has on its audience and the publishing market as a whole.

The educational publishing segment has made exciting and innovative advancements with technology, advancements that the rest of the publishing world must adopt to fit the needs of their future readers. Publishers in this segment are creating interactive digital ebooks, apps and programs that engage and assess students, and they’re using technology and data in sophisticated ways to track individual learning styles and adapt to personal needs.

Over the past three months, Digital Education Watch has tracked significant events in the industry by looking specifically at which businesses are making exciting and innovative advancements with technology. We looked at five large educational publishers that have dominated the segment for awhile: Pearson, McGraw-Hill Education, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Scholastic and Macmillan Education. These publishers still dominate the marketplace, and most of the innovative ebooks, apps and digital programs are coming from these five companies.

However, as technology disrupts this marketplace, new services  and products emerge. This blog has tracked four successful startups—Lore, BetterLesson, Clever and GoalBook—that offer teachers innovative online services. These services include social networking for the classroom and for lesson planning; data analysis and management; and online resources for special education teachers. The college textbook company Boundless shows how startups also have the opportunity to compete with the aforementioned big publishers in the textbook market as more schools move away from print materials and look to incorporate technology in new ways.

A common theme among the developments and conversations being made in the industry are the Common Core State Standards, one of the biggest influences in how our current educators are approaching their instruction. Last month at the Frankfurt Book Fair, John Wheeler, senior vice president of strategy, emerging technologies, and content solutions of SPi Global, a company that offers digital publishing solutions, discussed how the Common Core has reshaped the classroom and publishing segment around it. Wheeler explains, “We’re seeing a fairly wholesale move across the educational world from books and chapters to more of a learning outcome scenario. That’s one of the drivers of Common Core. They’re taking a good look at what needs to be taught, how can we guarantee that it’s being taught, and how can we assess that it’s been taught. It’s really caused our publishing partners to take a good, hard look from inception through delivery at how we’re producing content.”

While each of the big educational publishers are taking this good, hard look in different ways, there are several common themes and trends emerging among the digital products they are creating. While many schools are hesitant or can’t afford to completely abandon their print materials, the big educational publishers are quickly revolutionizing their products.  While McGraw-Hill Education aims to offer teachers a middle ground between print and digital, they are evolving their content into ebooks, apps and online learning programs at almost the same speed as Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, companies who are digitizing their products with full force. As these publishers are using new digital containers, the content is being produced in smaller, more interactive chunks. Because of this new “bite-sized” content, apps are emerging as a favorable format; even the ebooks Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt are producing resemble apps more than they do print textbooks.

Image by kanate from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image by kanate from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Another notable trend identified is a focus on personalized learning, one of the benefits discussed in this blog’s post about the added value of digital in the classroom. Startups like GoalBook were created to enhance IEPs with technology, while larger companies like Pearson, McGraw-Hill Education and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt aim to bring that personalized learning experience to all students by developing digital products that analyze and adapt to students’ learning styles. In order to achieve this, another trend has emerged among companies: a focus on data. All three big educational publishers are investing in data analytics: Pearson purchased Learning Catalytics™ in April 2013, McGraw-Hill Education bought Key Curriculum in 2012 and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt recently acquired Choice Solutions Inc. Startups like Clever are also infiltrating the market by offering data analytics services and integrated products to schools and programmers.

After looking at how the dominating publishers are approaching digital products and exploring the services that the successful education startups are offering, my assessment of the educational publishing segment is that technology is acting as a disruptive innovation in the shift from print to digital and the industry is changing drastically as a result. Technology is disrupting companies’ business models and products and, because of this disruption, there is great potential for startups to compete successfully with the big players.

As technology and the Common Core standards alter curricula and lesson planning, teachers and schools will have more options to choose from when selecting their materials. As print textbooks are replaced with tablets and apps, less schools will automatically turn to Pearson and McGraw-Hill for their products and will begin to look elsewhere. I predict that more innovative, technological thinkers will create startups to infiltrate–and revolutionize–the educational publishing segment, and that the marketplace for educational materials will change dramatically. 

GoalBook

In this blog’s post about the benefits of digital educational materials, I touched on how technology can allow for a more personalized learning experience for students. As we’ve looked at the big publishers in this segment, we’ve seen this to be a common goal of many of the products they are producing, with a few of the companies approaching this goal through a focus on data (McGraw-Hill Education recently acquired Key Curriculum and Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt recently purchased Choice Solutions). While the idea of providing a more individualized educational experience to students is a philosophy that is gaining more attention as new digital products make it easier, individualized learning has been an established accommodation for students for almost four decades.

The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) was introduced to school systems in 1975 in order to provide students with disabilities and special needs an equal opportunity in the classroom. IEPs outline modifications for coursework that meet a student’s specific needs and must set measurable goals for him or her, among other things. These plans show a need for a certain kind of educational materials, but the main educational publishers seem to be limited in what they offer for IEP students.

In this blog’s introductory post, we identified four main markets within education publishing, and materials for students with special needs were addressed in one of them: English Language Learners (ELLs). When searching through the websites of the big players–Pearson, McGraw-Hill Education, Scholastic, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt–this market is evident: when they broke their products down by category, English Language Learners was commonly included. However, this market needs to address more students with special needs than just ELLs. The number of students with IEPs is rising; DC public schools, for example, reported a two-point percentage increase of their IEP students from 2008 to 2012, with more than 10,000 DC students currently on IEPs. While the big publishers are doing a lot to extend the philosophy of individualized education to the general population of students, they need to do more to enhance the experience of the students for whom these programs were originally designed.

As we’ve seen, when there is a void in the marketplace such as this, startups have the ability to thrive. This is where GoalBook comes in; named the ninth top education startup of 2012 by TeachThought, GoalBook aims to be the first online, social resource for special education teachers. GoalBook strives toward success for “ALL” students and the company uses technology specifically to do this by creating an online space for special education teachers to improve their instruction. GoalBook believes that “teachers are THE factor” in the success of a student with special needs and wants to help them “make their work more effective, research-based AND sustainable.”

On its main page for teachers, the GoalBook website highlights the following benefits it provides to special education instructors: Our IEP Goals are Better; Align IEPs to the Common Core with Ease; Personalize to the Needs of your Students; We Help you Write Goals AND Achieve Them; Discover the Right Goal, Fast (as shown below with their “Goal Finder” feature); and Best In-Class Professional Development for Districts.

GoalBook's Goal Wizard

GoalBook’s Goal Wizard helps teachers find the right goals for their students

Unlike some of the education startups we’ve explored that offer their resources for free, GoalBook charges rates for their services: $32.95 a month for teachers, $395 a year for a district/school premium membership and $575 a year for a district/school gold membership, which offers analytics dashboard, online professional development and one-to-one coaching for teachers.

While the big publishers approach digital material from the big picture, startups like GoalBook can address the needs of a smaller demographic of students, such as those with special needs.

Companies to Watch

The integration of technology into educational publishing will not only affect the classroom, but the market this industry operates within. While the current industry is mainly dominated by the “big three” educational publishing companies–Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt–the shift to digital gives smaller startups the opportunity to infiltrate the market; it also gives big companies that have dominated the digital market, such as Apple, the opportunity to expand their reach.

The Companies to Watch section of this blog will look at what the major publishers are doing–and what they aren’t doing–to move into the digital world. The section will also look at smaller educational companies that are doing innovative things with e-publishing. Some of the startups discussed don’t publish education materials in the traditional sense, such as textbooks, but are using technology to advance the classroom with supplemental tools and platforms. As we saw in the previous post–Limitations in the Classroom–we can’t think of the educational publishing market in the narrow terms of just textbooks and books, but most also take into account supplemental, instructional and administrative tools and platforms for teachers and students.

The Digital Watch List

The big players

  1. Pearson
  2. McGraw-Hill Education
  3. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  4. Scholastic
  5. Macmillan Education

Startups to Watch

  1. Lore
  2. Boundless
  3. Clever
  4. BetterLesson
  5. GoalBook

Which company is making the most interesting advancements in digital publishing? Which company has had the most success in e-publishing? Do smaller startups really have a chance? This section will explore these questions and more.