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Consumer Awakening

Defining the Chaos of Digital Curriculum

Most educators, along with growing numbers of families and students, are aware of screen learning options. They’ve been seeing advertising on television. They have apps. They see ads pop up when they do Internet searches for “back to school” and see things like “Not-Back-to-School-Camp” – an annual camp for unschooled teens in Oregon.

Finding a course, finding a piece of content, downloading an app – all these things are for the truly earnest, but increasingly even the not-so-earnest at digital learning are seeing intrusive ads as they surf, shop, or pick up email.

Consumerized screen learning options didn’t start with the average parent and student as one might think, it started with teachers.

According to the Learning Counsel’s national 2015 Digital Curriculum Strategy Survey, in which 540 U.S. Schools and Districts responded:

  • 58 percent of teachers already spend up to five hours a week just on web search for resources. Approximately 12.5 percent of their work time is consumed in web searching. (Do the math; this is a huge shift that has happened gradually over the past ten years or so, at a phenomenal country-wide cost.)
  • One-third of teachers spend up to 10 percent of their work week building digital curriculum. (Which typically will be a lesson plan built on top of some Internet resource shown in the lesson with a link to some discrete piece of knowledge in a document or site, or a video.)

In fact, teachers themselves have built a huge portion of the available consumable digital curriculum out on the web. Most of the industry content vendors have had trouble in the last ten years making digital sales because of this, although total spend in 2015 on digital resources topped $7.2 billion in the U.S.

The faith in the textbook model, or do-it-yourself by teachers, was hard to overcome initially, and the distribution of computing devices was not what it is now. But times are changing – 77 percent of all students have a device for a significant portion of the day, if not a full one-device-per-child model. The paper-versus-digital trade is happening at a phenomenal pace.

Learning Counsel research indicates that 2016 was the first dramatic shift, popping the digital purchase side up to a total of $9 billion (a $1.8 billion increase in a single year) to educators and institutions, while diminishing the textbook side by at least that much. At the same time, the overall market has lost at least $1.8 billion in worth due to the fact that some spend has actually left the market for teacher-created or free and open resources.

From the outside, the curriculum resource market looks like it hasn’t gone up in four or five years, remaining relatively flat but shifting from one foot (paper) to the other (digital). What growth there could have been to coincide with nominal population growth never happened, because the market instead chose non-purchase and has put in place a significant portion of home-grown or free digital resources.

Who’s Buying EdTech?

Industry players have long been aware that their entrance point into selling schools was initially the supplemental resources space, things like math games, videos, etc. Administrators in schools were usually not the purchasers; school principals and individual teachers were, at a rate of 3 to 1 in local small purchase versus institutional.

This meant that companies had to sell in a nearly pure-consumer-marketing model to reach the bulk of the buyers who had been teachers for the starter years of digital transition (the nation has 3.3 million teachers). This cost-to-market for industry has therefore been built-in to most companies who are using tactics that completely skirt the old textbook district or school board levels.

Now that schools are at long last taking inventories of all that their teachers are using and establishing strategies to get full-coverage models of digital curriculum and content, they are making short work of saturating the school landscape with all things digital learning. In addition, the industry of paid professional digital resources is gaining some minor efficiencies now reaching whole districts, resulting in lower costs of marketing overall.

Meanwhile, the seeds of consumerization had already been sown, with many for-profit and nonprofits continuing to bypass the existing governmental structure, selling learning directly to users.

The seeds have grown so much that companies are selling digital learning objects to consumers at a pace that’s faster and growing more quickly than that which was sold to schools (currently at $10.44 billion and growing at a 20 percent annual growth rate versus school/teacher purchase, which combined was at $7.2 billion last year and predicted to jump by 25 percent this year. Hereafter, it will level off to about a 5 percent growth rate due to 2016 being a major adoption and new purchase year because of pent-up demand to utilize the computers and tablets purchased).

Ultimately, indications are that consumer-based learning purchase will outstrip institutional spending by a factor of at least 10, and rise to assume 10-15 percent of all mobile market purchases, where it is currently .08 percent of a $1.4 trillion industry. That promises industry a potential gain of some $100 billion in the next ten years. It may go even faster if it catches a strong consumer trend pattern.

Defining the Chaos of Digital Curriculum

The major digital learning objects, the “Three Things of Digital Learning” are:

1.) Discreet digital learning objects – video, apps, eBooks, documents, sites, games and courseware (iTunes, Teacher Created Materials, YouTube, Overdrive, Scholastic, Waggle, Amplify, Tenmarks, Macmillan, Disney Interactive, Lumosity, ABCmouse, ReadingKingdom, Rocket Group, HMH, Discovery Education, and thousands, if not millions, of others)

2.) Discreet Online Courses (The Great Courses, Khan Academy, Udacity, Coursera, Florida Virtual School, Fuel Education, Lynda.com, LinkedIn)

3.) Online Schools & Distance Supplemental Services (Fuel Education, Florida Virtual School, Presence Learning) The intermixing of these into existing schools is part of the blending of education today, and the growth of all these learning things is now saturating teacher, administrator, and consumer consciousness with big media messaging and socialization online.

The design basics of the Three Things of Digital Learning reflect the internet modalities of other things, like the single-song sales on iTunes and one-off game apps downloaded onto tens of millions of phones worldwide.

Arguments may be raging for a few more years about whether the Things of consumerized learning will continue to make relentless incursions into the education landscape. Or, whether they will tear down the status quo, put teachers out of work, and rip up the bureaucracies. Or, if these “digital natives” with their apps and games will be made powerless and ignored by all consumers everywhere because educators launch an effective challenge as to whether the Things teach anybody anything are are merely amusements and a passing fad. This is doubtful.

It’s doubtful because the proverbial cat is “out of the bag” already. People see learning online and they are using it. A bald-faced order to just “get back in class and learn” won’t hold out for much longer now that nearly everyone has a device on them all day anywhere they go. The advised route is to know, in detail, what is really happening with consumerized learning and develop a brilliant strategy as a school, a teacher, student, or parent, to embrace the shift and use it for greater gains.

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