Distribution will be the biggest area of disruption for educational publishing in the 21st century.

As the focus of content providers shifts from end products used by instructors and students to intelligent collections leveraged by diverse learning service and experience providers — ranging from AI and VR startups to current giants like Google and Amazon — the definition of learning content and educational publishing will evolve dramatically.

This is particularly true for general education and core business course content, which generates approximately 75%-80% of content revenues.

By 2025, major learning content providers will cease generating significant revenues from content products.

Instead of the traditional B2B partnerships with faculty and institutions that make product sales to students, educational publishers will shift their focus to B2B partnerships with learning-experience and learning-solutions-solutions providers.

In the future, educational content publishers will focus almost exclusively on creating, producing, and managing intelligently flexible content libraries that can be licensed by solution providers for specific learning applications.

For content publishers, solution providers, and end users, the price of the content itself will be close to $0. Subscription payments will pay for different levels of access (think basic and premium) to intelligent services and experiences.

Realizing this “r/evolution” over the next decade, 21st century educational “publishers” will concentrate primarily on content and learning innovation. In contrast, 21st century “printers” will focus mostly on innovations related to content access, display, and implementation in formal learning scenarios.

This distinction between “publishers” and “printers” 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.

Publishers must create product content packages that can support such varied distribution options as:

  • 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

At EdBooks, we understand that, while we are currently a provider of content products to end users, in the future we will likely evolve into a pure content publisher — an intelligently flexible library with an extensive collection of general education content consumed by a diverse group of content printers. This content will be available to enterprise subscribers and accessible through APIs that allow partners to consume the content and repurpose it dynamically and in real-time into specific learning solutions — adaptive, interactive, AI-driven, VR-enhanced etc.

For EdBooks, the first step in making this eventual transition is to define the equivalent of the “song” in music. If a course is the “album” of education, we view the song as a self-contained lesson that is tied to a specific curriculum concept (or concepts), and that supports identified literacies and competencies (or learning objectives). Our goal is to design these lessons so that they can be reorganized or recombined dynamically while maintaining a maximum level of learning coherence.

In addition, we need to create both atomic units — lessons — as well as the individual sections/elements contained in those lessons with carefully defined learning purposes. In other words, we want to make sure that any future system that interacts with our content will have as much information as possible about our perceived uses of that information for learning.

Finally, we must build out a comprehensive layer of connected metadata — including both formal vocabulary and taxonomies, as well as informal tags from internal and external sources — and an intelligent ontological framework to enable to enable the intelligent reuse we need to support.

The future of the distribution and presentation of learning materials necessitates that content publishers transition their primary work away from content products and toward information science and learning design. This transition will certainly be a challenge in such a traditional and conservative industry. However, it is a challenge that offers significant opportunities for existing and new content companies alike.

At EdBooks, we believe we are preparing well for the future.