Digital Education Watch: Conclusion

Image by nirots from

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.

Image by kanate from

Image by kanate from

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

Image by bplanet from

Image by bplanet from

Weekly Watch: November 3 – November 9, 2013


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.

Weekly Watch: Oct. 20 – Oct. 26, 2013

Image by bplanet from
Image by bplanet from

Weekly Watch: October 20 – October 26, 2013

Weekly Watch: Oct. 13 – Oct.19, 2013

Image by bplanet from
Image by bplanet from

Weekly Watch: October 13 – October 19, 2013


Pearson is not only the largest educational publisher in North America, but the largest publisher in the world. In 2012, Pearson reported total revenue of $9.16 billion. This summer, Pearson and Bertelsmann announced the merger of Penguin and Random House, leaving Pearson to focus its publishing energy on education, a segment it already dominates. According to Pearson’s own site, almost 50% of US schools use Pearson products.

As the leading publisher in this segment, it’s no surprise that Pearson is making huge progress with e-publishing, offering a wide variety of digital products that are designed to benefit both teachers and students and that can be accessed on computers, tablets, and mobile devices. The screenshot below from their “Digital & Mobile” products page shows the broad scope of products Pearson offers across various media:

Screenshot taken from on 6 Oct 2013

Pearson is approaching the shift to digital from a comprehensive perspective by developing technological products that penetrate each segment of the educational publishing market identified in this blog’s introductory postcontent; instructional support; platforms and administrative tools; and a special segment that includes advanced placement, special education, and English language learner materials. Pearson’s Digital Learning products shows how well technology can merge these four markets into one cohesive product that makes a more seamless learning experience for students and a far easier instructional experience for teachers.

Pearson’s Digital Learning products are featured on their Instructional Resources website (, and their product categories shows the breadth of content they cover: Reading/Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, World Languages, AP® Honors & Electives, Art, Music, ELL, School Improvement Services, Professional Development, Career & Technical Education, and College & Career Readiness. But Pearson’s varied subject matter doesn’t just account for their success; the innovative digital products they are creating across these content areas prove their dedication to and talent in improving the learning experience.

When searching through Pearson’s Science products, a teacher has a variety of options to enhance the classroom for different students and budgets. Pearson continues to offer innovative, but more affordable, print products, such as their supplemental Oil Spill Case Study, a topical 32-page booklet that can be used alongside any Pearson program for grades 6-12; a class set of 25 bundle with one answer key is $54.97. Their featured iBook Science Textbook, Biology (National Edition), by Kenneth R. Miller, Ph.D. and Joseph S. Levine, Ph.D., is only $14.99 on iTunes.

Pearson also offers the teachers and schools that can afford it the most cutting-edge technology, including their multimedia Interactive Science Curriculum and Online Learning Exchanges. Their Interactive Science programs focus on three pathways of learning: reading, where students can engage the page by writing in their own workbooks; inquiry, where different levels of inquiry are scaffolded; and personalized technology, where students can go online, anytime. Below, a screenshot of the K-5 Interactive Science program’s brochure explains the online components of the curriculum.

Pearson_Interactive Science Program

These programs aren’t exactly $14.99 on iTunes, though; a kindergarten class set of 25 student editions, digital courseware with a 7-year student license and a single year big book flipchart costs $1,087.47. Their Online Learning Exchanges are just as impressive, but just as expensive; 6-year access to their Earth Science exchange for grades 6-8 costs $32.47 per student, per year.

To address the fact that many teachers can’t afford their products without spending their own money, Pearson regularly links to funding support resources on their site, from information about grants such as Race to the Top to an Educational Funding Blog. [*Blogger’s Note: However, in a fine example of what Seth Godin refers to as “broken” technology, if you attempt to “Ask a Funding Question,” you’ll receive this unfortunate error.] Pearson has dedicated its own energy as a company to research affordable learning as well: In May 2012, the company started the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund (PALF) to help create and improve low-cost private schools across the world.

Pearson isn’t showing any signs of slowing their e-publishing development; in fact, they are dedicating more money and attention to technology in order to improve their products–and learning–in the future. This November, Pearson will host the virtual conference “A New Frontier: Re-imagining the Next Generation of Education 2013.”  At the end of this past July, Pearson announced an edtech partnership with 1776, “an incubator platform based in Washington, D.C.” Co-founder of 1776 Evan Burfield explains the implications the partnership has on the future of America’s education system and the companies that support it:

“America’s education system is at a crossroads and a forward-thinking approach is needed to solve many challenges, Pearson is using technology to invent new ways of learning; and by working with organizations like 1776 and our startups, Pearson’s experts not only provide insights around data and technical integration strategies, they can advise startups on effectively penetrating and scaling in the education market.”

Pearson’s broad coverage of content makes them an easy force to dominate the educational publishing market, but their shift from print-to-digital shows a conscientious effort to enhance the student’s and teacher’s experience.  As the massive force it is in the educational publishing industry, it’s no surprise that Pearson is making incredible digital advancements across all their products, but the way they’ve done it reveals that Pearson is concerned about more than just turning a profit, but with continuously improving the learning experience and, true to their slogan, always learning as a company.

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.