Apologies for an enforced absence . Minor eye surgery took longer to heal than anticipated , so I was left in the dark for two whole weeks . Imagine it : the horrifying compound growth of email , the buckets of spam , the listserv viral multiplication . Oh , the agony of life without the delete key !

In my darkness a kindly amanuensis has intervened to warn me that tomorrow They will call to ask me about “The Future of the Textbook “. They have sent 10 questions , apparently . They say I could answer them with my eyes shut , which may be fortunate this week . They also say that I am to concentrate on the 10 years out scenario. I love research when I am asking the questions , but , somehow , I feel a bit worried about providing the answers .  Do you mind if , like Old Tiresias beneath the wall of crumbling Troy , I count my beads in public for a space and soundlessly mouth some types of answers ?

Crumbling Troy ? Surely the age of the textbook is over . In ten years there will not be a textbook market , but a market in networked mass customization of learning objects , held in commercial stores but also freely created by teachers online and traded between teachers . Lesson planning softeware , deriving objects from stores , from teacher networks , and from VLE/LMS environments where these survive in open network usage , will enable teachers to create and trade learning journies/pathways designed for particular ability levels or learning problems . As education becomes more self-applied in older age ranges , higher education and vocational training , so these pathways will be increasingly designed by their users .Learning plans will have assessment and diagnostic tools on board , with the opportunity to rehearse or create new pathways of greater intensity to accomplish remedial requirements . Where these learning workflows are developed by teachers for learners , only a small proportion of teachers will be the creatives , but the work of peer schools and teachers will be widely acknowledged and imitated and customized in other contexts . 

So how will textbook publishers survive here ? The answer is that most of them won’t .Like newspaper publishers in the last five years we shall hear them intone ” Textbook content is king ” and “No one feels safe without a textbook ” until it is obvious to all that like Tom and Jerry in a madcap chase , they have run off the cliff edge and only the violent oscillation of their feet will keep them from plunging into the valley floor . Which they then inevitably do .

Some publishers have hedged this change . Pearson will sell textbooks until the end , but I suspect that long before that Pearson’s Learning Solutions , providing contracted -in school consortia systems integration to cope with these new workflows , will be the dominant revenue source . Elsewhere others have grasped enough of the point to go to interim customization, with Safari Books and Macmillan’s new Dynamic Textbooks demonstrating some of the range of possibilities .

This change to the personalized learning route is independent of gadgets . iPad will not revolutionize it , or iPhone or Android or anything else . These access modes will create accessibility , and add access features , but the learning services  requirement here is more about the network than the device . Collaboration between learners is a key element here.And it is all about mark-up , standards and accessible objects . Most of these are already in place .

Who will win here ? Two or three integrated software/content houses with global markets will dominate . Pearson plus who ? Small software players offering enhanced user experiences will rip across the market like comets , but mostly end up as acquisitions for the big players , or widely emulated feature sets . About a third of content in the market will be created as proprietory objects , another third available to teachers by local school board/authority licensing deals – and the rest will be free and Web-located. The major role for “publishers ” , if we use such an archaic term , will be in locating , indexing and relating suitable objects , and sometimes encouraging teachers to invent new ones if required . Come to think of it , to behave like educational publishers used to do when they sought to s eflect the best practice of the best schools back to the rest .

I could go on , but having had more light today than I am used to , I need to stop . What do you say ? One last question ? Will blended learning prevail ? Since I am on record as saying that blended learning is as much an oxymoron as military intelligence , I am surprized that you ask . The only thing that blends properly is coffee . If you are suggesting that blended learning is as interesting as instant coffee then I might agree . But other markets show us likely patterns : when people grasp the digital point they very soon go for it unadulterated .


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2 Comments so far

  1. Tweets that mention David Worlock | Developing digital strategies for the information marketplace | Supporting the migration of information providers and content players into the networked services world of the future. -- Topsy.com on March 25, 2010 04:21

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by David Leeming, David Worlock. David Worlock said: Asking about the future of the textbook with answers http://bit.ly/cNR4T3 […]

  2. Shane O'Neill on March 25, 2010 17:28

    David we were all worried at the enforced absence

    “O dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon,
    Irrecoverably dark, total eclipse
    Without all hope of day!”

    Thus spake the Blind Worlock re the future of his former clients!