OK, its a test. What links Mrs Donald Trump with historian and English Royal Society member Valvasor (mid-seventeenth century) and the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations (IFRRO)? Give up? The connection is Slovenia. Melania Knauss-Trump was born there, Valvasor wrote the history of the Duchy of Carniola (then a Habsburg property long before the creation and dissolution of Yugoslavia), and wrote the first treatise on vampires. And IFRRO met here this week  in the capital, Ljubljana, which is probably why I know these things (at least, temporarily!).

And in a month of travel it was a relief to reach a small town, in a country of 2 million people, where you can see a third of the territory from the castle roof. Yet IFRRO has been concerned with lofty and global matters, and I and others have been trying to help by stimulating the argument in the vital sector of education. I will put my slides for the keynote at the business models forum in the download section of this website (and they will also be at www.ifrro.org) and will not rehearse them now, but I have been very interested by the arguments around a conference room of some 230 delegates from 130 countries. Faced with the ever-increasing extension of fair use and fair dealings claims (the Canadian government is the latest to push for extensions of educational concessions), it seems that education is becoming the battleground for networked rights. I continue to believe that the word “copyright”, and the perpetual discussion of ex-print formats (books, articles, newspapers, magazines etc) tempts legislators and administrators to try to regulate digital networks as if they were simply extensions of the non-digital world. I think we need a new language, the removal of the copyright exceptions, blanket (and often metered) licenses and the ability to wrap content into software-governed packages and still protect it, and the new content it morphs into, on the network. If Google can measure the value of every click we make, then we should be able to measure usage. Lets dump copyright and start over with a new approach to network licensing which rewards authors and risk-taking entrepreneurial investors (even publishers where they can cope with that description) for making education work in the individualized learning context online which I have described before.

This educational push – creating a world of collaborative learning – will be the most important thing that our society accomplishes in our lifetimes, so making sure it works economically is totally worthwhile. And after a panel debate on some of the legal issues I then had the pleasure of hearing a following speaker take some of my themes and arguments, exemplify them brilliantly, and then drive the discussion forward in a wholly compelling and committed manner. Melissa Sabella, who runs Pearson’s custom publishing business in EMEA from London, justified every word of my recent blog on that company. Standing on a corporate platform that is now 29% digital (some $2.5 billion in network-derived  digital educational revenues), she was able to be ruthlessly authoritative about the necessity to protect the educational economy at this point of rapid change. While Pearson has major digital businesses like MyLab (revenues of some $8 million this year) it is the startling shift to eBook here in the last year which has made the critical change: some 25% of Pearson’s textbook business is now digital, and the big and recent push has been from the onset of a mobile networked marketplace.

Two factors underlie all of this, and Melissa met them square on. One is that in order for custom and individualized learning to work, you have to have frictionless purchase. The other is that networked learners are living in a world where, increasingly, the content knows them. The ability to allow content to track the learner, building associations and next steps, recognizing the need and providing the assessment, the diagnostic and the learning object to rehearse or re-inforce the learning provides the values that people will pay for in the future.

Of course, the first question from the sceptics is always “when”. I floundered around, pointing out that the developed world was taking its time ( and in economic down turn would take longer), partly because it was such a book-based culture, while the developing world could reach more easily, or leap-frog, to these conclusions. Melissa was more direct, citing her own experience of the 75,000 students in the Nigerian equivalent of the Open University (or its South African equivalent, which predates the UK distance learning landmark and which I recall visiting when I was publishing textbooks in Africa in the 1970s). But now the courseware must be customized, and, again in South Africa, the 40,000 students in the CTI scheme wanted learning that fitted their smartphones (a third of students have them). Africa. We are used to Asia Pacific being held up as a beacon of change. But this was Africa, and it was good stuff to hear.

It has eventually stopped raining in Slovenia and I have been able to walk around the town of Ljubljana. Before I go I hope to see more, but the watery sunshine of a late October day following heavy rain did surely betoken something, I hope? Maybe, at last, the men and women who control the author/publisher side of reproduction rights can  persuade governments, globally, that the huge promise of networked education through individualized learning has to be paid for somehow, and since it is the powerful economic need in our society to create a workforce which can respond to the challenges of the networked world, then it had better be the state, and sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, I have put “fair dealing” on my watch list, along with that other horror, “blended learning”!

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