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The world of educational publishing is completely fascinating. What other industry faces more pressure to change in this world of print-to-digital than textbook publishers? How will the leadership of the large education publishing companies pull off this transition? What role will publishing play in how higher ed evolves in an age of information abundance? 

My method for answer these and other questions is to try to get to know the people that work in publishing.  I like these people.  In some near parallel universe I work for an educational publisher, and they work for a university.  We share a common set of values, a shared vocabulary, and often the strong feeling that the status quo can no longer hold.

One of the most insightful leaders in the world of educational publishing is William Rieders, Chief Strategy and Corporate Development Officer for Cengage Learning.

We first met William when I interviewed him for a piece about his transition from the consulting to the publishing world.

Below are William’s thoughts on some of the big trends in higher ed, and how he sees Cengage Learning positioning itself to respond to these developments.

Question 1: What’s the biggest change you expect to see in the higher education industry in 2013?

In 2013, I think everyone in the higher education space we’ll be focusing on answering the question - what is the value of higher education? Even President Obama focused on this during the State of the Union address.

For quite some time now, the higher education space has been somewhat insulated from the recession as more people went back to school when they lost their jobs to better their resumes and become more desirable in a competitive job market, but that has changed. Enrollments are down for the first time in 15 years, and students are demanding more value for their money. This will lead to an increased focus on proving the value of higher education and measuring student outcomes and employability, all while controlling the cost of education.

Question 2: It appears that more educational software companies are starting to focus on student engagement. How has your company done this? Has it been successful?

Given findings such as those from Community College Survey of Student Engagement, as well as what we have observed through our own research and experience in developing content and services, we as an organization have chosen to focus on engagement. It is one area in which we feel we can make a measurable difference. In fact, we believe in the power of student engagement so much that we’ve created a conference on the topic – Engage 2013, which will be held in conjunction with this year’s SXSWedu conference. Engage is a track at SXSWedu dedicated to the importance of engaging learners to reach improved outcomes, as well as driving engagement through the technology of personal learning experiences. Speakers and sessions will explore all aspects of engagement and will share forward-thinking perspectives on the ever changing technological landscape.

We see student engagement as two-fold– engagement with their professor/peers and engagement with the content/subject they're learning about. At Cengage Learning, we’re working to influence both aspects. By developing services to support professors – such as tech assistance services, course and curriculum development services and homework-grading and assessment tools – we are enabling them to spend less time on administrative-type functions and more time focusing on what they do best, engaging with students and teaching. In addition, through our MindTap platform, we are offering opportunities for students to become better engaged with their studies. The MindTap platform enables professors and students to personalize the learning experience – by bringing in multimedia content, study tools, text-to-speech functionality, and much more – to create a more engaging learning environment.

Feedback from our customers demonstrates that our approach is working. Results from our MindTap Early Adopter Program revealed that nearly 70% of students felt that MindTap increases their engagement in course materials, while two thirds of instructors felt that MindTap helped them create a more engaging learning experience for their students.

Question 3: There is a lot being said about the realities of bring your own device (BYOD) – what challenges does this present to instructors? How are publishers working to support this trend?

BYOD is a huge trend in higher education, and of course it’s not without its challenges. If not properly leveraged, devices can be a huge distraction in the classroom. In addition, the variety of devices and types of devices (smartphones, e-readers, tablets, laptops) that exist in the market also makes it difficult to take advantage of the benefits offered by BYOD. On top of that, not all professors are trained on how to use various devices and how to leverage different learning solutions on devices.

As publishers, we are called upon to not only provide pedagogically sound content for use on these devices, but also to aid the professor with tools and services to use this content. At Cengage Learning we offer professors our CourseCare service to help them determine what edtech resources would work best for their classroom, while also assisting with the set up and ongoing use of tech resources throughout the curriculum. In addition, content through our MindTap platform is cloud-based and device-agnostic. No matter what device a student brings to class, he or she can view and take advantage of the content/solutions we offer.

Question 4: Do you expect MOOCs to continue to grow in popularity this year? Why or why not?

It’s hard to tell exactly where this trend will go, however I think we’ll see growth in MOOC partnerships with the private sector this year, whether it be for course design, content and delivery services, etc.

MOOCs are obviously a much talked about trend in higher education and something that we at Cengage Learning are monitoring on an ongoing basis. Because MOOCs are so new and still evolving, the role of publishers and content providers is still being established. We are engaging with the leading MOOCs interested in new models that provide better engagement for students and faculty with our content. We have several projects in this space underway. For example, we are working with EdX, a non-profit involving universities such as Harvard, MIT and Berkley, which is an early innovator bringing MOOCs to the general public. Through the agreement, Cengage Learning provides content and services.

What would you want to ask William about the higher ed publishing business?

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