Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Handwriting on the Wall

The article below, from eSchool News online, is among the most devastating pieces of "handwriting on the wall" I have ever scanned. The force behind of the handwriting is SCORM (great acroname for an all-powerful messianic force). And the target of the message is the textbook publishing industry.

SCORM stands for "Sharable Content Object Reference Model: and is a rapidly emerging object-oriented coding standard for all instructional and learning management software. SCORM assures the interoperability, accessibility and reliability of all e-learning materials - including video, PowerPoint, simulations, or music, etc. - whether produced by George Lucas, the local 7th grade social studies teacher, or a bunch of high school students. What's more, SCORM compliant programs can be searched by key word or by subject and grade. Instructors are permitted to incorporate all or parts of SCORM materials into their coursework at no cost. Schools and school systems are rapidly building up repositories of materials for use by their faculties or by affiliated institutions.

The first half of the attached piece is devoted to describing the history, purpose and current uses of SCORM, while t he second half deals almost exclusively with the implications of SCORM for text book publishers. In particular, the experts quoted in the article urge text publishers to "objectivize" the content of their books, noting that DoD already requires all of its instructional materials to be "SCORM conformant" and that the Department of Education is expected to follow DoD's lead.

These folks are enthusiastically describing education without textbooks in five years as a natural trajectory of the accelerated e-learning adoption rate made possible by SCORM. The authors of the article point out that pure eLearning players "are not waiting for the traditional textbook providers to dictate how educational content will be used in the future," and that they mean to replace "subject-oriented" curriculum with "object oriented" curriculum. The authors also mention that textbook publishers did not return their calls for comment on the article. I suspect that's because the publishing industry does not have a viable strategy for responding to the competitive threat from eLearning.

I think that the traditional publishers should concede the market for the industrial-era K-12 basic skill set to the pure eLearning vendors. The content of the current basic K-12 skill set is so well known that the competitive marketplace advantage in that market from now on will rest with the designers of superior e-delivery systems, who (one suspects) will typically NOT be in the traditional publishing houses. The core competitive competency of the established publishing houses is their content development capacity. Rather than devoting that expensive capacity to repackaging "See Spot run" "1+1=2," "What I did last Summer," they should be developing the new basic K-12 skill set for the post-industrial workplace - e.g. teamwork, problem analysis, spatial literacy, cybernautics, systemic thinking, etc.

Many of these new skills are not yet will defined, but employers have begun to express interest in them. Tom Abeles and I have convinced the publisher of On The Horizon to devote an entire issue of the Journal to defining the basic post-industrial K-12 skill set. We have begun to envision the future of K-12 education in which the old basics are taught almost entirely via e-learning, freeing up classroom time to address the NEW, high order basic skills of the post-industrial age.

David Pearce Snyder