The future of education publishing
Now that the UK government has announced a return to school for students in England, which will hopefully be more permanent, I’ve been thinking about how the events of the last year might change the landscape of education publishing for good.
Here I will consider what the future of education publishing might look like and how, as an industry, we can prepare for it.
What will stay the same?
Before making any widespread predictions about how the industry will change, I think it’s important, first, to consider what might remain.
1. The demand for printed textbooks
Despite the move towards digital forms of teaching, there will continue to be an appetite for textbooks in the future. Neilsen estimates that there was a 5.2% growth in printed books sold in 2020 compared to the previous year.
With the possibility of less classroom time looming on the horizon, textbooks will continue to be a trusted source of teaching materials for parents and students. However, the wealth of digital options available might erode some of that demand, so textbook publishing could become a smaller proportion of educational publishers’ total work.
2. A renewed appreciation for classroom teaching
Now that parents have experienced the difficulties of home schooling, as well as juggling childcare with work responsibilities, they are more appreciative of teachers than ever before.
Parents have reported finding home schooling ‘stressful’, as well as struggling to meet the needs of learners from different age groups in one household. With students’ grades suffering during the pandemic – in the UK, the attainment gap between the richest and poorest students has grown by an estimated 46% – students, parents and governing bodies are recognising the value of classroom teaching.
3. The need for an editorial production team
No matter what the format of the content to be provided to students, there will always be a need for authors, commissioning editors, and copyeditors and proofreaders to create it.
More than ever, students, teachers and parents will want to have confidence that learning materials have met quality standards. This will be especially important where a teacher might not be the intermediary between the learning materials and the student. Someone must ensure that the materials provide measurable progress towards the learning objectives, that they are engaging and appropriate for their target audience.
What will change?
It might once have been strange to imagine a world in which students would learn online – watching videos of teachers or participating in online live lessons; carrying out activities and tests, and submitting them online for automatic marking. The pandemic has changed that.
We can now say with some certainty that learning is likely to move more online and out of the classroom.
There are benefits to be gained from this:
Students (both school-age and adult) will be able to access learning in locations that they might not otherwise be able to reach. This could improve educational outcomes for many. Students could have access to learning in some of the world’s best institutions, whether they are local to them or not.
Digital platforms will provide more data on students’ progression through the course material. Quick tests and progress markers telling teachers what students have and have not completed will allow teachers to see where students are struggling. More data will also enable teachers to be responsive to their students’ needs – evaluating the success of their own teaching methods and adapting them as necessary.
How the industry can prepare for change
There will be many challenges for publishers to overcome before they can meet the demands of future learners. Publishers’ business models are geared towards print publishing and selling print products. There will be much for publishers to do to pivot their businesses towards the digital environment – some of which work has already begun.
But publishers will have to change faster and respond dynamically to shifts in the industry and the classroom if they want to rise to the challenge set by the digital sphere.
1. Teachers need to be trained in online teaching
This is not strictly an action point for publishers, but this is the first and most important step to making great online teaching resources. Teachers must first have the knowledge required to teach their own online classes before they can contribute to resources designed for other teachers’ use.
Many teachers have found that online teaching presents new difficulties to be overcome. They are fewer opportunities for interaction, since it is difficult for more than one person to speak at one time on a conference call. And there are concerns about student engagement.
As teachers develop new ways of addressing these issues, these methods must be added to existing training programmes, so that new teachers can benefit from their experience.
2. Publishers must be mindful of the technological capabilities of students
As teaching has moved online, it has become apparent that some students don’t have access to the tools – computers and reliable Internet access – that they need to engage with online learning.
The UK government has addressed this by offering laptops to schools and creating a scheme to help disadvantaged students to access an Internet connection.
However, in other parts of the world, challenges still remain. When publishers develop new digital products, they must not push too far ahead too soon. Otherwise, they risk leaving some learners behind. They must keep technological limitations in mind and have contingency plans to deal with them.
3. Publishers need to invest in training for authors
The writing process is no longer about just typing in a Word document. Content for digital platforms might be written in a template or into a content-creation platform itself. Authors will need to be given the training to use these platforms appropriately.
They will also need an understanding of the different types of teaching content – activity types, videos, podcasts and so on – available on the platform they will be using. Since this is likely to continue evolving at pace, author training materials will need to be updated regularly.
4. Editors need to train for new ways of working
The traditional division of copyeditors and proofreaders will no longer be applicable to digital resources, and BSI proofreading symbols might already be a thing of the past. Digital resources are not created to be printed, so editors will no longer need to print and mark up materials on paper.
Instead editors will need to be trained in editing online resources, on screen. They will need knowledge of how resources are read and used online.
They might also need to consider new tasks that will replace print tasks. Rather than checking page numbering follows on, they will need to check activity numbering. Editors might take on some of the role of the digital team – checking that activities work and that a correct answer is provided for a quiz.
5. Publishers must upskill existing staff
Educational publishers will have to upskill their staff in a similar way. In-house editors will need to brief their freelancers for all the tasks outlined above, so they will also have to have an understanding of them.
There will be new workflows for digital resources. Digital content can be produced in a more iterative approach than print products – early versions of the content can be released to customers and feedback on their effectiveness compiled. That feedback can be used to update the content.
This approach might see in-house editors working on one product in various iterations, rather than producing new textbooks (which remain static once printed) each year.
How freelancers can prepare for the future
There is so much to write about this, I decided to make it its own post. So look out for my next post, when I’ll be sharing some tips on how we can prepare ourselves to meet the challenges of the future.