Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

Ten Elements of the Post-Textbook World

This is a guest post –  “Welcome to the Post Textbook World: Ten Elements”  – from  Tom Vander Ark. It was originally published on Getting Smart, where he wrote about his deep investigation on this topic.


digital textbook, etextbookA friend asked about Jay Mathew’s post on textbooks. I thought the rear view mirror critique of a process to pick better textbooks read more like a 1982, not a 2012 discussion – and certainly not the 2015 conversation we should be having.

We’re heading for a post-textbook world (PTW), lots of school live there already. I spend all of my time thinking about and working in this brave new slightly chaotic world.

In the PTW, there is still value in organization, curation, and narration, but that will increasingly happen across digital object libraries, not texts. Textbook publishers will experience continued compression in content revenues, but content (and related services) will not turn into a commodity. Open education resources (OER) advocates will need to figure out how to integrate value-added services to continue to gain penetration in the classroom.

Textbooks continue to exist largely because school boards attempt to use their adoption to maintain (some illusion of) control over the enacted curriculum. Some lazy districts treat textbooks as the curriculum.

Flat, sequential, one-dimensional content is giving way to adaptive content that precisely calibrate learning experiences. Soon, smart recommendation engines will help students and teacher build customized pathways to mastery.

Free-leveled libraries can be found on as well as Gooru. Echo, the New Tech platform – all have a library of engaging projects. There’s a world of sharable free content on Edmodo and it’s really easy for teachers to mix and match to meet the needs of individual students.

Just like your cable bill, schools, teachers, and families will be able to add layers of premium content — adaptive sequences, games, simulations, video collections, and a world of engaging instructional units.  Today at Mobile World Congress, Pearson announced Plug & Play, a backend solution that will allow customers to mix and match content from different sources.

Electronic texts are a transitory technology. They’ll be around for a generation but they’ll add depth and personalization features that will make them similar to well organized object libraries.

The spine of learning environments is shifting from content to assessment. Competency-based systems like Edvision schools require students to show what they know. Standards-aligned achievement recognition systems (e.g., badges) will use a variety of assessments to mark and motivate progress—essay scoring engines, content-embedded assessment, game scores, and rubric scored projects. Services like Mastery Connect provide Core alignment tools and micro-assessments.

In the PTW, content libraries will exist within learning platform ecosystems will include these ten elements:

  1. Standards-aligned libraries of open and proprietary content
  2. Social, collaborative, and productivity tools
  3. Assessment tools and achievement analytics
  4. Learner profiles and portfolios
  5. Smart recommendation engines
  6. Assignment, matriculation, management, and motivational tools (e.g. badge systems)
  7. Aligned student services: tutoring, guidance, health, youth & family services
  8. Aligned teacher services: professional development, lesson & tool sharing
  9. Aligned school services: implementation support, new school development, and school improvement; and
  10. Aligned systems: enrollment, finance, personnel, and facilities.

Doesn’t that sound better than a ten-pound stack of textbooks? These full function ecosystems are a couple years off, but there is certainly enough functionality to choose from right now.

Accessing learning platforms will require districts and networks to ensure that every student has 24/7 access — but the good news is that is cheaper than the stack of textbooks now.

It’s time for states and districts to stop adopting textbooks and begin planning the shift to personal digital learning.

Disclosures: Edmodo and Mastery Connect are portfolio companies of Learn Capital where Tom is a partner.  Pearson is an investor.  


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Categorised in: Digital Textbook, Personalized Learning

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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
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