Digital Education Watch: Conclusion

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Image by nirots from

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. 



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By Kromkrathog from

While Digital Education Watch focuses on K-12 educational publishing, the site will occasionally explore innovations being made in the higher education world, in the hopes that the technology will soon come to benefit the younger grades as well. Lore is one such company, and a start-up to be exact. While other companies have aimed to infiltrate Blackboard’s dominance in the K-12 classroom, Lore’s advancements in the higher education world is one that merits exploration.

Lore is one of the top 10 education start-ups of 2012, according to  While the last post explored how Pearson has used technology to enhance their content and products, Lore demonstrates another use: social media and social networking. Many publishers, and businesses in general, have noticed the great benefits social media and social networking can bring to their companies. In this week’s edition of the GWU’s Professional College of Studies Publishing Program’s e-newsletter, the students explore how social media is affecting the publishing industry and this blogger discusses how it affects the publisher’s marketing role.

Lore shows how valuable social networking is in the educational publishing segment, where it can be used to enhance both the student’s learning experience and the teacher’s instructional role. Lore brings social media to the classroom by creating a digital community around learning. This is an essential step to make in the shift from print-to-digital in educational publishing. With Facebook and Twitter’s prominent presence in the rising generation’s world, the students of today are creating digital communities for everything else in their lives, and we must incorporate education into their online world in order for them to connect with it in more meaningful ways.

Lore agrees. On their website, the company explains that “Our education system today can be better. It’s not relevant enough, engaging enough, or, most importantly, accessible enough.” In a 2012 New York Times article about the startup, one of its founders, Joseph Cohen, expands on this concept: “Our education experience is truly offline,” he said. “We want to build what Facebook has done for your personal life, but for your school.”

In an article about the company also from 2012, the Economist explains how founders Joseph Cohen, Dan Getelman and Jim Grandpre dropped out of the University of Pennsylvania in May 2011 to create Coursekit, soon renamed Lore, which has already raised $6 million from investors such as Social+Capital, David Tisch, Joel Spolsky, and IA Ventures.

Joseph Cohen describes Lore as a “social-learning network for the classroom.” Cohen’s description gives us an appropriate name for the social networks educational publishers can benefit from: social-learning networks, networks that further the classroom experience by enhancing the communal aspect of it. Classrooms, in their nature, facilitate a group learning experience, something that can be lost when materials are moved online and learning becomes more individualized. Lore brings the sociality of learning back to the classroom by, ironically, taking it online. Lore recognizes that the Internet has allowed us to become more social, to create communities easier and to communicate within these communities more conveniently. These concepts greatly benefit learning, as students can better understand what they’re learning by share, discussing and questioning the content with their peers; they can also bond with one another to create a learning community. Professor at Boston University Edward Boches explains how using Lore for his advertising classes has made his teaching  “more interactive, [it] extends it beyond the classroom and stimulates students to learn from each other rather than just the professor.”

As one of Lore’s featured “Popular courses,” Professor Jeff Ely’s Intermediate Microeconomics class at Northwestern University is made publicly accessible from Lore’s main page. With Lore’s platform, Ely posted the class’s calendar, the course’s syllabus and readings for his students:

Intermediate Microeconomics (Northwestern University)

Ely’s Lore page for his course also features a discussion board that he and his students used to discuss and ask questions about assignments and concepts covered in the class. While Ely has made this course public, professors can make their courses private and they can control who has access to their network and see exactly how they’re using it, a solution to one of the limitations of technology discussed a previous post in this blog.

Lore is not the first company to attempt to bring online social networking to the classroom. The most notable company to do this is, of course, Blackboard. While Blackboard has gained success in many K-12 and university classrooms across the US and earns a profit by charging for its service, Lore offers many solutions to the problems students and teachers have noted when using Blackboard. From my own personal experience using Blackboard in high school and in my undergraduate and graduate university courses, Lore’s usability looks superior to Blackboard’s, particularly with their discussion boards. Founder Joseph Cohen agrees when he addresses their competitor in a note on the Lore blog from March 2012 and declares that Blackboard’s “products remain lousy.” Matt Cannon at The McDaniel Free Press urged those at McDaniel College with the “Blackboard Blues” to try Lore and offered a comprehensive view of Lore’s improvements on Blackboard’s system to encourage his readers. He notes Lore’s calendar tool, which keeps students abreast of upcoming deadlines, and Lore’s gradebook tool that opens up the grading process for more discussion between teacher and student. Ki Mae Heussnew at updated us in summer 2012 on how Lore’s redesign has “upped their ante” against Blackboard.

After launching its first version in November 2011, 600 universities used Lore in at least one class in the 2012 academic year. While it’s no doubt that Lore is enriching the classroom in innovative ways with its social-learning network, the company’s future is still unclear–to its customers, as well as its founders. Lore is currently free to users, and the company has expressed that attracting users is its main goal, founder Joseph Cohen has also said that if enough students begin to use Lore as their main resource for learning, the site could eventually sell textbooks and other educational resources. If Lore approaches learning materials with the ingenuity they’ve brought to their social-learning network, we should be in store for even more innovations in the classroom from this start-up.

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.