Interview | MBS Direct Digital’s Rob Reynolds


EdCetera spoke with Rob Reynolds, director of MBS Direct Digitalabout his take on the edtech industry. In this Q&A, Rob talks about his circuitous path through education to his current postion, the future of e-books in education, and why the biggest obstacle to improving education is the actual attempt to improve it.

What’s your background in the education industry? How did you get to where you are today?

I started out in a traditional role, as a professor of languages and literature at a small private college. Later I went to work at the University of Oklahoma and eventually migrated from an instructional role to one of instructional technologist and then administrator. While at OU, I began teaching designing and teaching online courses, and also wrote ancillary materials for textbook publishers. I left my life as a teacher/administrator to take a role in publishing and, later, left publishing to co-found an educational technology startup. That company was acquired in 2009, which is how I ended up in my current position as Director of MBS Direct Digital.

As you can see, I took a rather circuitous path to arrive at my present job. I started out teaching literature and interested with an emphasis on literary theory. Today, I spend most of my time researching technology and business trends, as well as designing educational software products. This professional and intellectual migration, while not a common expectation for people of my generation, is a great example of the lifelong learning trends our students will undoubtedly experience in their adult lives.

Having had experience as a teacher, what do you think the biggest challenge is to improving the way educators teach?

The biggest challenge facing teachers today is the explosion of information and the fact that they can no longer expect to keep up with their own knowledge domains or, more importantly, hope to know what information students really need to be successful. Moreover, the days of students thinking about single, lifelong career paths are gone. This means that teachers and schools are being forced to rethink curricula and key literacies, and shift learning to a focus on preparing to students to learn new things rather than on specific containers of static information/knowledge.

What role do you see e-books playing in education in one year? How about 10 years from now?

Digital textbooks will continue to play an increasing role in education throughout the current decade. They will represent more than 10% of total textbook sales by the end of 2013 and more than 25% by 2015. Just as important, digital textbooks represent a much broader trend in education towards digital content in general. This evolution will translate into a gradual morphing of the current textbook and publishing models, and result in broad product and business in the education market.

As move out into the future, we will think less in terms of static, linear collections of content (like our current textbooks), and more in terms of discreet units of information that can be easily repurposed and used in a variety of product models. Moreover, all of our digital content will be associated with  key learning concepts and learning objectives to facilitate improved discoverability and learning.

What’s the benefit to open source educational content? Are there any open source initiatives that you think are on the right track?

The rapid transition to digital content in general is facilitating significant growth in the open educational content channel. Over the past year, we have seen increased funding for open source and open content work in education. In addition, we have witnessed a growing acceptance of open content and a change in perception regarding its value and quality compared to commercial content.

When it comes to open source content, I am a big fan of both Khan Academy and Connexions (Rice University).

What do you think is the biggest obstacle to improving education/learning?

Ironically, the biggest obstacle to improving education/learning is the actual attempt to improve education/learning. I’m not sure we can start with our current assumptions about education and learning (as evidenced by our school systems), and make a suitable journey to a learning destination that is truly improved and evolved. This belief has led me to focus on improving pieces of the learning ecosystem — content management, content rendering, and content authoring.

When you hear the phrase “future of education,” what comes to mind?

For me, the future of education means a shift from container-based and centripetal learning to containerless learning that is driven by centrifugal forces. We will move increasingly away from artificial constructs that emphasize unnatural learning networks to practical, real-life models that leverage our natural learning processes and networks.


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