Answer to ‘Building Away from the Book’, David Wilcockson, March 30, 2015

This article made me very happy and I am delighted to see that others are thinking along the same lines as myself.

Answer_to_Building Away from the Book


The commoditization of education… and content

Obama’s laudable plan to make community colleges free adds to the headaches of premium educational institutions – how to differentiate myself from ‘free’? If there is a ‘good enough’ free offer, why would I pay for premium? The same applies to content and is a headache for publishers: If there is a ‘good enough’ free offer, why would I pay for premium?

All ‘hard’ industries have suffered this:

  • Samsung vs. low cost manufacturers, such as Xiaomi, Motorola, Google One
  • The car industry – now all cars are ‘good enough’.
  • Etc.

And now the service sector is facing it too. For most it’s become a Red Ocean situation, with tons of other fishermen all fishing for the same fish. The founders of Cirque Du Soleil reinvented the circus – eliminating the animals and brought in a whole new type of customer – the kind that is willing to spend $50-100 for a performance.

Are publishers (and educational establishments) ready and able to find the Blue Ocean? I most cases, I fear not, not for them, but for the important people, the learners.

I want to see audacious strategies which will add value (ie, real learning of life skills) current educational offers from publishers, institutions and education systems. I feel the beginning of this well be to:

  • provide a seamless learning experience anywhere, any time, with no perceptible difference after stepping over the theshhold of the classroom
  • provide real life, real material based learning, keeping students ‘on task’ and providing situated learning
  • moving to ‘just-in-time’ publishing and embracing the ephemeral media and channels youg learners use and enjoy
  • moving to a focus on the learning process and not content
  • evaluating competence and not knowledge

But that’s the beginning. The future of publishing and education will embrace IOT, AR in amazing ways and radically change the role of teacher facilitator so that she truly becomes invaluable. It will embrace peer teaching and User Generated Content.

All this requires looking into, and beginning to work on, the middle-distance, not the day to day. Who will be brave enough?

Education is driven by technology – wrong

Education is being driven by technology at the moment. This is wrong. Education needs to be driven by pedagogy and powered by technology. This entails proper training and CPD of teachers, and change in classroom choreography, teasing out of a clear vision or mission statement from leadership (often sadly lacking) and a commitment on the part of teachers for student-centred learning around real world material with teaching and evaluation based on process and not just product. Publishers are key here as they need to move away from their monolithic publishing model and move to a more agile, just in time approach giving a disaggregated content offer which achieves coherence from elements other than linearity. User generated content needs to be brought into the mix, with publishers performing their traditional roles of curation, editing, design, ensuring universality, ensuring rigor in content and material and perhaps even adding their seal of quality but at the same time changing their perception from that of constructing monolithic ‘one size fits all’ publications to that of constructing tagged clouds of content, accessible from any point.

A clarification on ELT digital textbooks

Much of the literature, reports and suchlike on electronic book/digital books/eBooks do not apply to ELT textbooks because ELT textbooks are typically not read, they are done. When the literature speak about ‘interactivity’ they are often referring to the inclusion of multimedia content. When ELT people speak about interactivity they are usually referring to interactive exercises/activities. As so much of a typical ELT book is done, the digitalisation of ELT books or material demands the existence of activity templates which mirror the cognitive skills (hopefully) exercised in the realization of activities in a print book. Indeed, digital versions of ELT materials should enable and promote the use of higher level thinking skills more quickly and in a more real life environment, by making memory and comprehension easy with media-rich presentation and moving the students quickly to higher – order skills such as Application and Creation, as well as Analysis and Evaluation. Creation, Analysis and Evaluation are also in the ‘soft skills’ area which the CEFR hopes to promote through Key Competencies and also take us into the affective domain and thus satisfy the requirements of addressing the affective in learning, the importance of which is highlighted by followers of the theories of Gardner and by prominent figures such as Robinson.

The activity types typically used in ELT books are well known, typically:

  • fill in the gap

  • reorder

  • match

  • multiple choice and choice multiple

  • etc.

These activities are useful enough for lower-order thinking skills and although successful completion of activities of these types is often mistakenly taken as proof of language competence and although this is manifestly not the case, teachers are likely to expect them so their inclusion in early digital products is recommended for the sake of face value and acceptance, not to mention avoidance of problems with sales forces who are notoriously reticent in accepting, selling and giving value to products they do not understand. But the importance of moving learners to higher order ‘soft’ skills and moving teachers to competencial models of evaluation and therefore, teaching, cannot be stressed enough.

‘New Publisher’ manifesto

A ‘broadcast’ method of teaching based on transmission of concepts is essentially flawed

In many education systems, teaching is more often ‘about’ the subject rather than experiential methodologies designed to improve competence using knowledge end experience from that area of knowledge

In highly bureaucratic education systems, like Spain, teachers implicitly believe in a linear descriptive model of one isolated subject. There is very little similarity between this and how learners actually learn.

This ‘linear’ model is well suited to paper and has been convenient for publishers for many years. It removes the effort of having to investigate other more compelling models and alternative paradigms for publishing

Curricula need to be:

  • Adaptive
  • Dynamic
  • Digital

Instruction needs to be:

  • Student-centered
  • Diverse

Assessment needs to be

  • Authentic/competencial
  • Frequent & Formative
  • Fluid and/or Task/Project-Based

Publishing needs to be:

  • Just in time
  • Continuous
  • Use real world stimuli and media
  • Disaggregated
  • Promote and encourage
    • Modification
    • Revolution
    • Authentic Learning
    • Students as Co-Designers
    • Complex Thinking and Communication
  • Dynamic: having constant access to constantly changing information and media
  • Promoting blogging, collaborative project-planning
  • Student-centered
  • Gamification
  • Situated learning
  • Micro-learning
  • A multi-perspective approach

Changes threatening the textbook industry

The demands of the future job market and the resultant calls for change in education, the falling value of certain markets and the expectation that digital = cheap and the growth in the number of free resources will make the traditional textbook and its digital counterpart increasingly less attractive and relevant.

Publishing houses have not realised that ‘software is eating the world’ and that the incumbency they have enjoyed for so many years is their own death sentence. Change will come, and when it does, will be ‘nasty, brutish and short‘.

The ‘title’ model of publishing does not adapt to future forms of delivery whereby publishers’ content will need to be disaggregated in order to adapt to future sales models: subscriptions, sales to third parties etc. Furthermore disaggregation will allow publishers to keep their content more up-to-date: essential if it is to combat offers from new players with no print baggage