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A Pearson Hypothesis

Why I think that Pearson will (or should) abandon textbooks and go all-in with adaptive learning platforms, and why not assigning OER textbooks is educational malpractice.

July 17, 2019
 
 

“…..a fully integrated digital product, like Revel, MyLab or Mastering, will be $65 to $80,” said Fallon.

From Pearson’s Next Chapter (7/16/19)

My younger college-student daughter learns better with paper. My older college-student daughter (yes, two tuitions) prefers digital.

The people who run Pearson are very smart. They know that many students want paper.  Some within Pearson may even think that paper is better for learning  - at least for people like my younger kid.

So why is Pearson going all digital?

Will not this shift push many professors - those sensitive to how students like my daughter learns - out of the Pearson ecosystem?

Is it hard to imagine that the lack of a paper textbook option will be the incentive that faculty and departments need to look at alternatives? The OER OpenStax textbooks are terrific, and low-cost print options are available.

Will Pearson’s eventual shift to fully digital educational materials ultimately be bad for both students, and maybe even for Pearson?

We will not know for a few years. But I have an hypothesis.

That hypothesis is that Pearson is making a smart move. I think that in 5 years Pearson will no longer be selling digital versions of print textbooks.  Digitizing a book that was written initially for paper is like putting a radio show on television.

Digital textbooks make for bad user experiences. 

The future of digital learning materials is adaptive learning platforms.  The integration of multimedia content, dynamic formative assessment, and learner/educator facing analytics will be where value is created.

OpenStax has won the argument about linear textbooks.  If you are not assigning free OER (or low-cost print), then you are practicing educator malpractice.

Adaptive digital learning platforms - if done right - can be pretty great.  I’m a fan. I’ve seen these platforms work beautifully for a wide range of learners, including my younger daughter.

This is not an endorsement of Pearson’s MyLab or Revel.  I would like to see some analysis of the quality of these platforms. If you have experience teaching with these platforms, please let us know what you think.

What Pearson needs to do is to find a way to go all-in with adaptive learning.  The company needs to focus all of its energy on building integrated and immersive learning environments.

This is not a shift to digital that Pearson is making.  That is a boring shift.  Moving to digital no longer is a business strategy.

Digital has been commoditized.

Pearson needs to do something much more difficult.  What Pearson needs to do is eliminate its dependence on textbook sales.

Pearson needs to find some way to build all of its business around adaptive learning software.  This is the sort of capital intensive work that a company like Pearson can do well.

A single author or a small team can create a perfectly excellent digital textbook.  High-Quality digital learning experiences will require experience AI, media, graphics, simulation, visualization, and many other inputs - in addition to subject matter expertise.

The open educational resource model for textbooks can’t support the high upfront costs inherent in developing and supporting adaptive learning platforms.

Of course, this is all a guess.  I don’t know if Pearson will be willing to abandon the born-print/now-digital textbook.  I hope that they do.

For now, any professor that wants to assign a textbook should look to OpenStax.

Anyone who teaches foundational/introductory courses should at least check out the options with adaptive learning platforms.

Do you think that Pearson will make a full pivot away from textbooks?

Am I putting too much faith in the educational value of adaptive learning platforms?

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