Digital education assets were not spared, either. That same year, Pearson also sold PowerSchool, one the most widely used student information system in K-12 schools and districts today. (my note: about LMS, including PowerSchool, pls watch this animation: https://blog.stcloudstate.edu/ims/2019/12/22/bar-chart-race-lms/)
At the time, Fallon said PowerSchool was “an administrative system rather than a tool for learning, teaching or assessment,” and which did not jibe with Pearson’s transformation strategy.
The company offered a similar reason for selling its U.S. K-12 courseware assets, which Fallon described as “textbook-led” and one that “does not fit in with our digital transformation strategy.”
more on Pearson in this IMS blog
Pearson “digital first” strategy.
My note: see our postings
It also enables Pearson to staunch the bleeding caused by an explosion in the second-hand market. A company called Chegg launched the first major online textbook rental service in 2007; Amazon followed suit in 2012. Both advertise savings of up to 90 percent off the sticker price.
But more technology doesn’t always mean better results. Within K-12 learning environments, the digital divide means that students in low-income and rural households have less access to reliable internet and fewer connected deviceson which to complete the online portions of their homework. And while Pearson’s initiative applies only to textbooks in higher ed, the shift to digital has implications at the collegiate level as well.
Just as traditional software has a thriving open source community, textbooks have Open Educational Resources, complete textbooks that typically come free of charge digitally, or for a small fee—enough to cover the printing—in hard copy. And while it’s not an entirely new concept, OER has gained momentum in recent years, particularly as support has picked up at an institutional level, rather than on a course by course basis. According to a 2018 Babson College survey, faculty awareness of OER jumped from 34 percent to 46 percent since 2015.
One of OER’s leading proponents is OpenStax, a nonprofit based out of Rice University that offers a few dozen free textbooks, covering everything from AP Biology to Principles of Accounting. In the 2019–2020 academic year, 2.7 million students across 6,600 institutions used an OpenStax product instead of a for-profit equivalent.
The knock against OER is that, well, you get what you pay for. “One faculty member told me only half-jokingly, that OER is like a puppy that’s free. You get the free puppy, but then you have to do all the work,” says Cengage’s Hansen, who argues that traditional publishers provide critical supporting materials, like assessment questions, that OER often lacks, and can push more regular updates.
By virtue of being free, OER materials also heavily skew toward digital, with hardcover as a secondary option. (Or you can download the PDF and print it out yourself.) The same caveats about efficacy apply. But at least OER doesn’t lock you into one digital platform, the way the major publishers do. OpenStax alone counts around 50 ecosystem partners to provide homework and testing support.
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Or you could always split the difference.
That’s the territory Cengage wants to stake out. Late last summer, the educational publishing behemoth—it announced a planned merger with McGraw Hill in May; the combined company would surpass all but Pearson in market capitalization—rolled out Cengage Unlimited, a “Netflix for Textbooks” model that rolls all textbook rentals and digital platform access into a single rate: $120 for a semester, $180 for a full year, or $240 for two years. Almost a year in, the US-only program has a million subscribers.
My note: more about Cengage and McGraw Hill in this blog
this added Sept 13, 2019:
more on textbooks in this IMS blog
Twelve Years Later: What’s Really Changed in the K-12 Sector? (Part 1)
In fall 2007, Larry Berger, CEO of Wireless Generation (now Amplify) was invited to submit a paper to an “Entrepreneurship in Education”
As education entrepreneurs know, growth in K-12 comes hard. Sometimes very hard. We were living Marc Andreessen’s startup mantra: “You only ever experience two emotions: euphoria and terror.”
The edtech boom of the past two decades promised efficacy and new instructional models. Many teachers instead experience it as “clutter.” But poorly integrated standards, curriculum, assessment, and intervention materials have always been a problem.
When it comes to instruction, the work consists of four segments: core curriculum, supplemental (intervention, test prep, little books) curriculum, assessment, and technology (hardware, infrastructure and connectivity). Each of these workstreams are run by separate teams, using independent funding streams, only rarely coordinating. Schools rely—as they always have—on the hero in the classroom, who has to somehow synthesize everything for a roomful of children, every single day.
Twelve Years Later: How the K-12 Industry and Investment Landscape Has Shifted (Part 2)
Twelve years ago, Amplify CEO Larry Berger and I wrote about the “pareto distribution” of companies in the K-12 sector.
The “oligopoly” was the natural outcome of a highly decentralized system and fragmented demand. To serve 15,000-plus districts and more than 100,000 school buildings, a company needed huge sales and service teams; to afford them, the company needed a bookbag full of products across content areas, grade ranges, and use cases. The structure of demand created the “Big Three”—McGraw-Hill, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Pearson.
Meanwhile, the number of small players—further right on the pareto distribution—has grown dramatically. Online distribution and freemium business models have enabled companies like Flocabulary, Newsela, Nearpod, and others
few alternative models to consider:
companies like Remind, ClassDojo, and Edmodo, who all adopted a “West Coast” approach: collect active users now, with plans to monetize later.
The second includes the “platform” players—Schoology, itslearning, Canvas, and other LMS-like platforms. They have set out to do something differently, only possible by means of technology—to be the search, storage and distribution platform for instructional content. Google Classroom has instead emerged as the de facto standard platform, fueled by the runaway adoption of Chromebooks.
The third includes “policy responsive” players—companies like Panorama, Ellevation or Wireless Generation. hese companies help school systems meet a new policy requirement—social-emotional learning, English Language Learning, and reading assessment, respectively.
But we’re not “decluttering” our classrooms or in our schools. What would it take for the private and public sectors to work shoulder-to-shoulder?
a catch-22: so long as buying is fragmented, it’s hard to justify the integrated product investment; so long as products are fragmented, it’s hard for a district to create an integrated instructional model.