Tuesday, March 20, 2012

An Abundance of Learning Content and a Model of Delivery

I read Kathryn Rusch's take on scarcity and abundance in the publishing world with great interest yesterday.
In an abundance model, scarcity looks like a mistake. Consumers who expect everything they want at their virtual fingertips get angry when they can’t get something. We’re seeing that a lot with traditionally published bestsellers. For a while, traditional publishers tried to release the e-books six months after the print books. All that did was anger the consumer, who wanted their e-book now.
Traditional publishers thought scarcity—the lack of an e-book—would drive consumers to the hardcover. Instead, it made the consumers so mad that they actually wrote nasty online reviews of the books in question. Not a nasty review of a book’s content, mind you, but a nasty review of the book’s lack of availability.
Abundance definitely confuses those accustomed to scarcity thinking. By the way, I think we may be seeing this play out in education on a number of fronts. First, we are definitely seeing a rift between consumers and providers in Higher Education. Many traditional universities still act as if their commodity -- a college diploma -- is a scarce commodity, when in reality there are so many opportunities for a good education that the biggest problem students have is deciding which school suits them best. Second, textbook publishers have long operated under the assumption that good quality learning content is scarce, and therefore can carry a high price. The truth is that there is an abundance of inexpensive, free, and open learning quality that is of equal quality. In fact, the primary thing allowing publishers to keep charging high prices is the fact that there is still isn't a convenient mechanism that allows instructors and students to find what they need and to reuse it easily.

Of course education isn't the only industry in which consumers need improved means of content discovery. On the entertainment front, if you add the entire Internet of TV programming to the already bloated cable offerings and you have a list of possibilities that no one can get through without some solid help.
This is in big contrast to the two paradigms driving the web – search and communication. The two largest web companies — Google and Facebook are driven by these two fundamental behaviors. But the vast majority of users turn on their TV without any intent — they aren’t planning to search for a particular piece of content or use their TV to communicate with friends. Instead, they’re engaged in channel surfing and looking for inspiration.
According to Richard Bullwinkle, Rovi measured behavior on over 100 million set-top boxes and Connected TVs, and only 14% of the time users search for a particular item or navigate to a given channel. 86% of the time users navigate to the guide and flip to something of interest. This means that new TV experiences must be designed differently than web experiences — TV experiences must be built around Discovery.
Well, it turns out that those predicting that the iPad 3 launch might result in a slowing of the Apple tablet juggernaut got it all wrong. Apple reports that it sold more than 3 million of the devices in less than 4 days. That's three times the number of iPad 2 devices sold in the same period at launch last year and has some analysts predicting they will sell 12 million of the new iPads this quarter.

Oh, and just when you thought the tablet wave couldn't get any bigger, try these two bits of information on for size. First, the rumors are becoming more serious with regards to Google's plans to launch its own Android tablet in May that is designed to compete with the Kindle tablet. The price point being thrown around is $149-$199. With a sub-$200 price tag, these devices could indeed prove disruptive.

But wait, there's more. We are also learning that Microsoft is aiming to release WIndows 8, along with a slew of tablet and smartphone devices, in October this year. This OS and the devices that will launch on the ecosystem will also provide interesting disruption and impetus in the tablet arena.

And speaking of disruption, Audrey Watters has posted a storify recording of the Discovery's "Beyond the Textbook event yesterday, and has also written this reflection on the textbook in general and its obsolescence as a construct (echoing the details I layout in my book, The Future of Learning Content).
Even if you have the most up-to-date edition of the very latest textbook, I think it is generally recognized that the textbook -- as an object, as instructional practice -- is still a relic. It is a relic of a time when information was scarce. It's a relic of the way in which we manufactured and scaled the industrial model of education -- a teacher at the front of the classroom, assigning the lessons and readings from an authoritative text. One that was bound by print. One that was distributed state and even nation-wide. One that was uniform. Somewhere along the way, "textbook" became "curriculum" -- and under today's testing regime, that all became wrapped up in "assessment."
In other news, Pew has released another report, on teens and their smartphone behavior, and the results probably won't surprise you.
The volume of texting among teens has risen from 50 texts a day in 2009 to 60 texts for the median teen text user. In addition, smartphones are gaining teenage users. Some 23% of all those ages 12-17 say they have a smartphone and ownership is highest among older teens: 31% of those ages 14-17 have a smartphone, compared with just 8% of youth ages 12-13.
Finally, take note that MIT is launching a new enterprise unit around its MITx initiative. As part of this effort, the institution has manadated the development of an open software platform to support online learning. I suppose I am in agreement with Tony Bates' reaction to this announcement. "I am surprised that MIT finds the need to develop yet another open source platform. I’m wondering how this will differ from say Sakai or Moodle or the host of new cloud-based open source LMSs now hitting the market."

Suggested Reading
Apple: We Sold 3 Million iPads in Less Than 4 Days - John Paczkowski - News - AllThingsD
Google Expected To Release Tablet In May - eBookNewser
Microsoft aiming for October 2012 release of Windows 8, tablets and PCs on deck -- Engadget
Teens, Smartphones & Texting | Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project
With TV Everywhere, It’s All About Discovery | TechCrunch
The Business Rusch: Scarcity and Abundance | Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Abundance vs. scarcity in the publishing world | TeleRead
MIT to develop new Open Learning Enterprise unit for online learning
Publishing Business Conference: Keynote 10 predictions for the future of book publishing | TeleRead
Pew: Twitter, Facebook Aren’t Moving As Much News As You Think | paidContent

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