Online Resources Will Upend the Textbook Industry

4/24/13Follow @himanshusareen

Can a free tablet app render traditional textbooks and publishers obsolete? Will new software for grading papers and short essays replace teachers?

Education has experienced a wave of progress in recent times thanks to open education resources, online colleges and mobile computing. Not only have students and teachers benefited from access to resources, but even the traditional publishing framework is set to evolve in a revolutionary way. As technology continues to push forward in education, we will continue to see the traditional publishing model evolve.

Widespread education problems stem from multiple issues, from a lack of educators and funding shortages to outmoded forms of pedagogy. One of the best equalizers, however, is the explosion of institutions pushing 21st-century education technology.

Edu-Tech Can Augment the Current System

In an economy that is hurting for technical individuals to fill in gaps caused by talent shortages, edu-tech is set to change many aspects of education and accreditation. For example, in 2011, my company Icreon Tech worked with Net Texts to develop a tablet app for compiling open education resources (OER) for seamless use by students and teachers.

With the Net Texts app, teachers assemble course bundles with interactive media-rich content to supplement in-class activities. Students consume this content via the Web or the native iPad or Android tablet apps, in addition to taking tests, recording audio notes, and collaborating with other students. For classrooms burdened by overcrowding and minimal resources, specifically bandwidth, Net Texts has been a way to level the playing field, especially in many of the schools in which it has been implemented across the United States.

Truly Worldwide Classrooms

Access to resources and the means to gain skills are no longer constrained by geographic and economic factors. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are growing in popularity and engagement, with several high profile universities offering such courses. In addition to structured MOOCs, there are a number of OER websites dedicated to providing free education materials.

Khan Academy and Saylor.org have created complete course loads to provide an online student with the same amount of study materials and assignments as issued to an on-campus student. With involvement from active and retired professors and professionals, the course work is timely and up to date with recent innovations. If a vital industry disruption or event has occurred, the course can be updated in moments with up-to-date content.

Response to Constraints of Textbook Publishers

A primary drawback regarding the current textbook industry is the short shelf life of information. Industry innovation occurs at a blistering pace, making it hard for traditional schools and publishers to produce timely analysis of current events. Hybrid courses are combing online course work with traditional lectures and classroom sessions to increase the relevancy of lessons while lowering the expense of course materials.

Online courses, e-books and mobile apps featuring OER materials can fill in where printed textbooks fall short.  Printed content can only be so relevant, given that important innovations cannot feasibly be incorporated into printed books for the most up-to-date lessons. Maintaining relevancy is as simple as uploading new content, streaming expert insight or sharing recently released industry articles or books.

Progressing Beyond Traditional Publishing

Publishing companies, which have traditionally depended on print academic journals and college textbooks for their revenues, will undoubtedly move to adopt digital and online offerings to meet the expectations of today’s tech-savvy society. The natural strategy for textbook publishers looking to differentiate themselves from competing OER sources and MOOCs would be to emphasize quality.

To position themselves for such innovation, publishers should begin to experiment.  For instance, a service for accessing expert insight via streaming or pre-recorded videos for use in class can be bundled with traditional text book purchases.  Publishers have already begun to embrace the development of mobile applications so we can certainly expect some innovation along those lines.

By taking inspiration from the forces which serve to disrupt the traditional publishing model, publishers can embrace and capitalize on such disruptions rather than stick to their traditional modes of operation.

Himanshu is Founder and CEO of Icreon, a New York-based designer of custom websites and applications. Follow @himanshusareen

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