Digital Education Watch: Conclusion

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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.

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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. 


Weekly Watch: Nov. 3 – Nov. 9, 2013

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Weekly Watch: November 3 – November 9, 2013

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.

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.