In her opinion piece for No Shelf Required, CEO of Metrodigi, Kathryn Stewart, gives three reasons why education has been slow to leverage the benefits of digital content: inferior user experience; shortage of engaging content; and lack of commitment to overcome institutional barriers. Full article below.—Ed.
Making the Move from Print to Pixels in Educational Content
By Kathryn Stewart, CEO, Metrodigi
The migration from physical to digital content has transformed many industries from entertainment to publishing. Why has education—a market sorely in need of innovation—been so slow to leverage the benefits of digital content, especially given the enthusiasm of today’s tech-savvy students?
As schools and universities are quickly being populated with digital natives, it’s essential that campuses keep up with their technology choices to keep students satisfied. In fact, a recent study found that 73 percent of college students recommend their university review and change its digital strategy. How can the institutions that are preparing tomorrow’s leaders keep pace with the rapid advancements in technology and student expectations today?
I see the challenges/opportunities as three-fold:
Much of the educational content available today does not provide a robust user experience.
Digital textbooks, for example, are often little more than PDFs of the printed textbook under glass. Today’s students (and instructors) are receptive to digital educational content, but a more engaging experience is required to realize the full potential for this content. A recent survey of college students from Wakefield Research bears this out: according to that survey, 34 percent of students said the greatest benefit of digital textbooks is that they are more affordable and convenient – but not necessarily compelling. In fact, those same students identified various aspects of digital content that would improve their learning experience, including:
- 61% of students said that homework that is more interactive, containing elements such as video, would improve learning outcomes.
- 48% of students said their learning would be enhanced by technology that helps them collaborate digitally with students from their class, or from other schools.
- 61% cited the ability to exchange instant feedback with instructors as something that would improve learning.
- 55% said digital learning that personalizes their learning experience (i.e. gives instructors the ability to track student progress in real-time) would be useful.
Clearly, there is a market for engaging, educational content, but supply has not caught up with demand. Which brings us to the next barrier:
There is such a shortage of engaging digital content because the transition from physical to digital formats is not as simple as it should be.
Just like education, publishing as an industry has been slow to change and adapt to the digital landscape. Even though educational publishers know there is a need to provide digital content, they are often stuck at the intersection of running while trying to put on their pants. There is no question that there is a need for new tools that help publishers develop and deliver robust, interactive educational content more efficiently and affordably but many education technology companies today promise a single solution rather than a toolset that can be used to fuel a learning revolution. Content is typically thought of in long-form and to break it down into shorter “learning bytes” requires a deep understanding of the types of learning outcomes instructors and students expect. As we have partnered with publishers and institutions alike, we’ve found that it takes more than one of everything—process, tools, people—to reach a successful outcome and we encourage educators, publishers, startups, schools, and universities to recognize that working together will produce positive results.
There must be a commitment to overcome institutional barriers in order to make digital content a reality in the classroom.
As both the market and the means for producing educational content improve, there must be a systemic effort to address the structural and behavioral aspects associated with the widespread proliferation of digital content. This includes making sure all students have access to the Internet, and the devices they need to readily access course materials, and making sure educators are trained and comfortable in the use of digital content. Clearly, many of these elements will require legislation, training and institutional commitments that transcend the publishing industry. The task is vast, but this is a rallying cry: let us all work together to improve the production and distribution of educational content, as well as the access and infrastructure needed to make it broadly available. In this way, we can accelerate a much-needed disruption to our outdated educational offerings.
In her role as CEO of learning technology company Metrodigi, Kathryn Stewart is responsible for strategic vision and operational success. Stewart has more than two decades of experience in operations management, editing and design within the publishing industry, and she is a recognized thought leader in the education industry. She was most recently Chief Operating Officer at the company, and prior to her tenure with Metrodigi she also held senior positions at Thomson and Cengage Learning.
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