Exciting News Regarding Pearson Online Textbooks and Kindle e-Readers

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, we are starting to see a fair amount of established textbook companies partner with newer tech startups. I’d imagine these publishers realize digital learning is quickly becoming a classroom reality, so they are looking for partners to handle the innovative digital delivery of their academic content. Pearson makes up nearly half of the textbook marketplace, and they have no intention of slowing things down it appears. As of yesterday, Pearson textbooks has partnered with Knewton, a company that has created a truly unique adaptive learning software.

While Pearson has their own online learning environments and provides online supplemental materials, such as Pearson MyLab, these platform’s overall potential pales in comparison to what Knewton has been working on. When students read and complete assignments through Knewton’s learning software, the software learns what that specific student’s topical strengths and weaknesses are over time. This means the software will quickly realize that a student is breezing through certain assignments on certain topics and getting everything correct, so the software will no longer force the student to complete assignments on this topic. Therefore, students won’t need to waste time learning topics they already fully understand and can use their time more effectively by studying concepts they truly need help with. Knewton’s software has the opposite angle covered as well. So, if a student is clearly having issues with a certain topic or theory, the software will continue to notice this and will attempt to present the ideas in different ways, until the student clearly understands what is going on.

This partnership has huge potential, and is already being experimented with at Arizona State University, with VERY promising results reported so far. The software is helping college students complete their required remedial classes VERY quickly, and some faculty at ASU have said they will consider cutting their remedial classes to only a half-semester after seeing these types of results after applying the software to a significant student population. While Knewton’s software is already at work in a few classrooms, the real goal of this new Pearson-Knewton partnership will revolve around making the entire Pearson textbooks library compatible with Knewton’s “prediction engine”. Soon, a lot of digital textbooks will be powered with Knewton’s adaptive software and this will certainly be an exciting thing to see. Not only are these digital learning platforms more interactive and engaging than a traditional academic textbook, these types of programs also make it VERY difficult for students to cheat/copy, as individual students will be working on slightly different things based on their own previous knowledge and skillsets, etc.

My only “gripe” with the article I was reading was this: “As textbooks go more digital, prices will drop just as they did in music and best-selling novels. One of the best ways Pearson has to maintain its pricing in textbooks is to increase its added-value by integrating its material with intelligent systems like that of Knewton.”

When I read stuff like that, I cringe a bit because I believe that no matter what, using new technology should be about DECREASING costs when it comes to education. It is scary to think that these huge textbook publishers could actually use new technology to the detriment of today’s student’s…but capitalism is truly the name of the game I guess. My hope is that both the publishers and the tech companies can figure out how to maximize their ROI with pure distribution volume (as THAT is the fundamental power of online learning in my opinion), while actually DECREASING textbook costs for individual students. A guy can hope, right?

Speaking of capitalism and education…While students in lower income areas around the globe are benefiting from Kindle textbooks with the help of nonprofit organizations, MANY lower income areas are not getting access to these online learning tools due to bad distribution models in my opinion. iPad Textbooks are the newest “rage” in schools and colleges throughout the U.S., as well as things like Android Math Apps, iPhone Science Apps, etc. These educational platforms and applications are popular for a huge variety of reasons, and they are truly changing the way students learn and interact in the classroom. The problem is that these tablets, platforms, and applications are still extremely costly and mostly designed for multimedia entertainment, and yet they are being integrated into “well off” schools already. Well that sounds great, you say? Not so great, I say.

The problem, in my opinion, is that the students in the “less well off” areas are seeing this and assuming these expensive tablets are the only option out there. Tablets are essentially becoming “the next shiny object”. These tablets and digital devices are becoming a “must have” for entertainment and now educational purposes, when simple e-readers like the Kindle can often perform the same way and achieve the same results inside the classroom. I just hope this is not another case of new technology actually “harming” students in the long run. Basically, I’d rather see every student in the world receive their own Kindle, rather than see only half of the students in the world receive an iPad.

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