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. 



The last startup we’ll discuss creates its products for universities, not K-12 schools, but it’s important to note the advancements being made in surrounding markets in educational publishing. Boundless demonstrates a startup that is taking a different approach to infiltrate their market than the ones we’ve seen. BetterLesson, Clever, Lore and GoalBook all offer innovative services to teachers and students through online spaces. Boundless, however, offers innovative products and competes directly with the big textbook companies in their market, something we may see more companies attempt to do as schools look for new ways to incorporate technology in their classrooms.

Boundless is also a notable company to explore because of the perspective they take on the work they are doing in this industry. Boundless’ CEO Ariel Diaz talks at TEDxCambridge 2013 on how he believes we need to reshape, or essentially flip, the way we teach subjects in all classrooms:

According to the company’s website, Boundless was founded in 2011 ” to revolutionize the educational experience.” Since its inception, Boundless has raised almost $10 million to fund this revolution and thousands of students across the US are experimenting with Boundless instead of using their traditional college textbooks.

In comparison to the etextbooks that the big companies Pearson and McGraw-Hill are producing, Boundless’ ebooks offer similar interactive features to help students learn and the company explains how it uses technology to make these features useful:

“Boundless Learning Technology, based on active recall and spaced repetition, prompts you with quizzes, flashcards, summarization and more at the optimal points during your reading to help you retain information.”

Boundless’ learning technology includes flashcards and quizzes, seen below,  built into textbooks that test students at optimal times in their reading to increase their memory and understanding of the content.  Students can also electronically highlight text and make notes.

Boundless' flashcards and quizzes use technology to enhance educational content

Boundless’ flashcards and quizzes use technology to enhance educational content

Boundless’ products are also notably less expensive than the college textbooks they’re competing against. The cost of many of the print college textbooks on the market often exceeds $100 and the costs are still rising; Boundless’ textbooks, on the other hand, are offered at a steady, accessible $19.99.

Boundless has done such a good job of offering competitive, affordable products that three of the big educational publishers–Pearson, McGraw-Hill Education and Cengage–sued the startup in April 2012 for copyright infringement and unfair competition, among other offenses. While the details haven’t been released, there were reports of a settlement. Regardless, the lawsuit didn’t stop Boundless from pushing forward with their innovative and affordable products.

We’ve seen that Pearson and McGraw-Hill are producing etextbooks and other digital products with similar technology and rivaling features, more K-12 schools may choose to take the path many college students are taking by choosing Boundless textbooks and look elsewhere for their educational content.

McGraw-Hill Education

McGraw-Hill Education moved down a spot from 2011 to be the eighth largest publisher in the world in 2012, and the second largest educational publisher behind Pearson. McGraw-Hill Education joins Pearson to dominate the K-12 textbook market. President of McGraw-Hill Education K-12 Peter Cohen notes the company’s success in a recent article about the Common Core: “[You would be] hard pressed to find a school district that doesn’t have a McGraw-Hill program of some kind.”

Despite this strong presence in the market, McGraw-Hill Education recently did some restructuring, a possible response to the 10% decrease they experienced in sales in the first nine months of 2012 due to decreased school funding. In June 2012, McGraw-Hill Education named Lloyd G. “Buzz” Waterhouse as new president and chief executive officer of the company and in March 2013, parent company McGraw-Hill sold McGraw-Hill Education to Apollo Global Management. In a letter to shareholders, Harold McGraw stressed the company’s focus on the digital future of their products by explaining that the sale “will enable the education company to continue developing digital learning systems for better outcomes for students and professionals around the world.”

It was recently reported that Apollo is already considering slimming down their purchase by selling the professional side of the business, possibly to focus exclusively on its educational work, a large task that includes both K-12 as well as higher education publishing. While this post focuses on McGraw-Hill’s K-12 efforts, the company is making noteworthy digital advancements in their higher education materials, with new products such as their excellent e-book, the adaptive and interactive SmartBook.

As the second largest educational publisher, McGraw-Hill Education has a lot of content and coverage to digitize, but they are doing so in exciting ways.  As their Digital Solutions page boasts, they have it all: Online Learning Systems, eBooks, Digital Curriculum, Adaptive Learning programs, and Hybrid models. McGraw-Hill also offers online resources–such as free webinars–for teachers.

McGraw-Hill offers more than 50 apps, many of them free. It’s important to note that many of their apps are aimed toward students, attempting to infiltrate their digital world with education. Their CINCHLearning app encourages the social digital reading Scholastic’s book fair app facilitates. Just as Scholastic’s app links to peer reviews of books, the CINCHLearning app features a highlighting tool where students can comment on the text and begin discussion threads with other students. Studying and engaging with learning material becomes more accessible for students with these apps.

McGraw-Hill Education's CINCH Learning app.

McGraw-Hill Education’s CINCH Learning app.

McGraw-Hill is offering many of the same types of products that Pearson is: apps, interactive online modules, eBook textbooks, social networks for teachers and students. But McGraw-Hill differs from Pearson in how they’re approaching these new digital products. In an Education Week article from earlier this year, Michelle Davis discusses how the Big Three educational publishers (Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) are rethinking their K-12 strategies. Davis draws distinctions between how these three big players are approaching the shift from print to digital.  In contrast to Pearson, who aims to restructure the educational landscape with a digital platform, McGraw-Hill is not focusing all of their attention on electronic products. McGraw-Hill’s Chief Digital Officer Stephen Laster explains,
“Digital is clearly the future, but we’re in this blended world, where digital and print are really what our teachers are using today,” he says. “McGraw-Hill doesn’t think you should throw out the way education has been done and start from scratch.”
This is certainly evident with McGraw-Hill’s Networks: A Social Studies Learning System. The system is designed to “meet you wherever you are today in the use of classroom technology and takes you wherever you’re going on the digital spectrum.” The promotional video below shows its features.
McGraw-Hill’s approach to digital publishing meets schools in the middle as they transition into using more technology. The company’s recent reshifting should hopefully only bode well for their digital future, even as they seek to maintain their print past.

Weekly Watch: Oct. 13 – Oct.19, 2013

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Weekly Watch: October 13 – October 19, 2013

Weekly Watch: Oct. 6 – Oct. 12, 2013

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Weekly Watch: October 6 – October 12, 2013

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.