Learning to Adapt

Disruptive technology has been a source of major upheaval in the education publishing industry. However, many expect a bright future, as publishers and startups alike hope to seize the massive opportunities presented by data-driven, adaptive learning.

Lynch says the disruption of the publishing and purchasing schedules causes multi-million dollar programs to bleed revenue. The continuing increase in textbook costs is also a contributing factor. “As tuition goes up, that cost of textbooks becomes even more of a burden,” says Lynch. The internet opened up a inventory of pirated, old and foreign copies to students, while faculty became less tied to specific textbooks. “It created this spiral,” says Lynch. “You add to that, the movement of providing digital content with a lot of interactivity and multimedia, which is very costly.”

Kirshner says that while the economy certainly has played a role in industry woes, the introduction of new technology in the last ten years has been the most profound agent of change, and those that make the wisest investments in technology will come out on top. “All of us, if we’re honest about it, are learning about [technology]. The science behind how people learn is becoming a big part of our business.”

In many ways, the technology that has been a source of major disruption is also a massive opportunity for publishers, although with a number of caveats, says Chris Goodson, senior vice president of services innovation at HMH. “We understand it’s not a panacea. There’s a lot of noise around what technology can do. There’s still the [problem] of access and adoption. There are a lot of places without enough bandwidth.”

Considering the User: A Smarter Future

Though these outside forces are factors, Lynch feels that some onus should be placed on a paradigm that exists within the industry where the end user is insufficiently considered. In many ways, textbooks, especially in higher education, have not met the needs of students, says Lynch. “I think the reason is K-12 and higher education publishers don’t think of their customer in the same way as people who make cars or make jewelry do. They build a product for the decision maker, rather than the user, kind of like dog food.”

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