Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What's so great about educational publishing?

Everything. Educational publishers--textbook publishers--are in the best place in the whole educational cycle. They're riding shotgun in the catbird's seat. Why? Because they are the link between research (new knowledge) and classroom teaching. Nobody else does that--other than a handful of brilliant individual teachers. 

So why are they complaining? 

I think many publishers have gotten themselves lost by defining themselves by their processes (Here's what we do: We find authors who know stuff and get them to write books. And now we have to do all this digital interactive development on top of that! We can't make money any more.) 

It is a classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees. It is an exact repeat of the error of the railroads, who defined their business by steel rails and locomotives, rather than by moving goods and people as efficiently as possible across long distances.

Publishers are in the business of finding and organizing knowledge in ways teachers and students can use for education. 

And that's a whole vast frontier full of opportunities. Why? Because almost everything about that last sentence has been transformed in the last 15 years: 
  • "Business" is now as married to education as technology is, because you can't have one without the other. Technology is a product and service and it costs money, and somebody has to pay, and that requires a new business plan--and a new business model.
  • "Finding knowledge" isn't typically about one expert any more, and certainly not about one expert who can write a book. It requires content experts and instructional designers and developmental editors and professional writers and media developers and creating a voice, a persona, a content strategy.
  • "Organizing knowledge" is different in almost every way, with data, meta-tags, search, user-generated content, on-demand lectures, free content. This requires tech savvy, but also content structure and a content architecture geared to student/user preferred pathways and learning modes. 
  • "Teachers" don't teach the same way; they don't use content the same way. They're flipping classrooms and teaching through discovery, collaboration, projects, recorded media, and of course, at a distance. 
  • "Students" don't learn the same way, running a much wider gamut, not just from the bright to the not so bright, but also the highly motivated who've already learned it online and come to class to challenge the teacher, to drudges who disengage and complain when it isn't as fun as a video game. 
  • The connection between "teachers and students" is dramatically different, mediated through the LMS, Twitter, Facetime, smart phones, every medium imaginable. Literally. Some new ones are just now being imagined.  
  • "Education" itself, if you define it as an organized approach to learning, is changing as a result. It is slowly but surely unshackling itself from boundaries built for delivering quality-assured learning through time and space: Classrooms, class schedules, semesters, grades, attendance...
If educational publishing is about "finding and organizing knowledge in ways teachers and students can use for education" --then it is an absolute bonanza of opportunities, the mother lode of opportunities, a gold rush waiting to happen.  

So why do publishers feel like their world is constricting? 

Something is wrong with this picture. Righting that wrong, a little at a time, is why I'm so interested.