[This is the first in a series of six articles on the characteristics of 21st century educational publishers.]

As we set out to build a new kind of publishing company at EdBooks, we contemplated what it means to be a 21st century educational publisher.

Is it a focus on digital technologies? Is it related to new kinds of business models? What is the role of learning design?

We talked about these and a myriad other ideas, but as we worked through our initial product designs and business models, five key characteristics emerged.  Here is what we feel defines a 21st century educational publisher:

Content – For 21st century publishers, content is the primary technology focus. Properly engineered, content can be adapted efficiently and cost effectively to any channel, distribution, or consumption technology. As we have witnessed in the last decade, technologies that are ancillary to content – digital repositories, e-retail, LMS platforms, e-readers, adaptive learning platforms, and CBE solutions – will evolve and expand rapidly. These ancillary technologies, however, share a common dependency – content.

Before the 21st century, educational publishers were necessarily constrained by the print paradigm in terms of technology, learning design, and business models. In the 21st century, we are free to design and engineer content without constraint. We can develop content that is intelligent, emergent, and connected. We can build content that is adaptable and optimized for any learning environment and any ancillary technology. We can create content that, first and foremost, is intended to improve the learning ecosystem of which it is a part.

Abundance – 21st century educational publishing operates according to the principle of information abundance. 21st century publishers understand that there is an abundance of existing information about every topic for which we want to develop content products. Moreover, there is an abundance of useful and reliable information that flows from an abundance of expert resources. There is also an abundance of excellent information providers and an abundance of capable distribution channels.

Within this ecosystem of abundance, then, how does a 21st century educational publisher differentiate itself and build a sustainable business model? At EdBooks, we believe this occurs through a relentless focus content innovation. We believe this focus on innovation includes:

  • Innovation in the information frameworks used to assemble and distribute content
  • Innovation in content design, or in the way information elements are combined and connected
  • Innovation in learning design and, particularly, the development of a publisher-specific framework that defines successful learning solutions
  • Innovation in the design of the learning environments in which publisher content is placed and packaged
  • Innovation in content authoring, attribution, and the assembly of content, including creating products that contain content from different authors and resources with diverse rights and royalty requirements
  • Innovation in pricing models and content access
  • Innovation in personal services provided to publisher partners

Transparency – 21st century educational publishers focus on having their products adopted by partners whose learning vision and goals align closely with the publisher’s learning and product-design models. To ensure that their content is discovered and adopted by the right partners, 21st century publishers are committed to transparency on a broad scale. This includes:

  • Transparency of learning philosophy and convictions about the design and elements of successful learning solutions (or environments)
  • Transparency in content design, development, and purpose
  • Transparency related to operational design and process
  • Transparency about company culture, structure, and core values
  • Transparency in company business models, product pricing, and content access

21st century publishers are willing to make clear and public identity statements, and provide clear information and examples in each of these areas.

Sharing – 21st century educational publishers are also committed to supporting the larger educational ecosystem in which they operate. 21st century publishers value collaboration with competitors and partners, and appreciate the importance of sharing information, ideas, and content with the global learning community. This sharing, which is public and open, includes:

  • Sharing ideas about future development and products
  • Sharing information about company values that contribute to successful work and learning cultures
  • Sharing information frameworks that promote improved content development, management, and distribution’
  • Sharing learning design models that promote improved teaching and learning
  • Sharing open and affordable content resources curated for publisher products
  • Sharing publisher’s commercial content through free and open-access channels

Distribution – 21st century educational publishers focus primarily on content and learning innovation while 21st century “printers” are concerned mostly with innovations related to content access, display, and implementation in formal learning scenarios. This distinction necessitates that 21st century educational publishers design content for the broadest possible array of distribution and access. In short, publisher partners should be able to “print” learning content for consumption according to their specific needs and requirements.

This means engineering product content packages that can support such varied distribution options as:

  • Printed materials for traditional classrooms or personal use
  • Competency Based Education platforms
  • Adaptive or personalized learning platforms
  • Learning Management Systems
  • Digital libraries and learning object repositories

In the remaining installments of this series, we will examine each of these five characteristics in greater depth, and explore more precisely how EdBooks is working to embrace 21st century publishing ideals.

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