Editor’s Note: This post has first been published on edcetera – straight talk on edtech.
When reading those headlines with the top trends of the year, there seems to be confusion about which year actually was the “year of the MOOC”. Some say it was 2012, some go for 2013. Based on the slight cooling off during the last quarter of 2013 with Udacity and Coursera going into company training and edX cancelling its student matching efforts, we all might get the chance to talk and write about other interesting things going on in education right now.
Certainly one could argue that MOOCs are only part of the bigger trend around data in education. As Audrey Watters put it “student data is the new oil” and I think she is absolutely right. Also, if you listen to some of the most successful investors and founders you will notice that they talk about trends as basis for their decisions, in which vertical to invest or in which to launch a new venture. Data is such a trend and MOOCs rely heavily on data produced by the users as this data is the basis of how they (may) earn money down the road.
And if we go back in the archives and check what was all the buzz before the MOOC wave crashed and swept everything away we will find that before MOOCs digital textbooks and personalized learning were two of the major topics. Now that the dust has settled a bit let’s get up to speed with these closely connected verticals that might have the potential to make a comeback in the edtech headlines in 2014.
To begin with we saw the untimely death of Kno, one of the most ambitious startups in the digital textbook space. It had originally started as a hardware company that wanted to provide students with a tablet that had the same form factor like a normal textbook. In an unfortunate turn of events for Kno, Apple launched the iPad a couple of months later and essentially killed the Kno tablet in the crib. Afterseveral other rather unfortunate happenings Kno ended up in a fire sale to Intel. But I am pretty sure that we are going to hear more of Kno and Intel this year, probably in combination with a new, Intel powered tablet for education.
One the other hand, digital textbook creator Inkling that had temporarily fallen back behind Kno due to its more detailed approach in creating e-textbooks, came out on top in the end. After some pivots into cookbooks and other experiments the startup came up with a working business model: creating Inkling Habitat, a self-service platform for education publishers.
One other interesting story in the digital textbook space that hadn’t gotten that much attention throughout 2013 was the legal battle between Boundless and the publishers Pearson, Cengage and Macmillan. Boundless got sued for copyright infringement as the platform created free versions of expensive textbooks by compiling and curating freely available OER material. A case never took place and Boundless and the publishers settled their dispute last month. Details of the settlement have not been released.
Last but not least, we learned that Knewton raised a $51 million round just before Christmas. The New York based startup, though we should now call it a grown-up, has specialized in personalized learning since 2008. Over the years more and more big publishers including Pearson, Macmillan or Cambridge University Press partnered with Knewton to bring their content and learning experiences into the new digital era. Notably McGraw-Hill chose to invest into its own personalized learning platform by acquiring a 20% stake in the Danish startup Area9 in early 2013.
According to TechCrunch Knewton has generated close to 2 billion personalized recommendations to students over the past couple of years and throughout 2013 the company tripled its revenue.
I think over the coming twelve months the importance of the textbook is going to diminish. It is an antiquated idea of how students get access to information. Textbooks are probably going to be replaced by other entry points like apps or search portals also with an increasing focus on mobile consumption. What counts is who is going to generate the best data sets and analytics.