Why Schools Need to Demand an Open Platform for Content Distribution

E-learning concept

Education is one of our largest industries and accounts for almost 10% of our national GDP. When it comes to innovation in education, the biggest question is scaling solutions and products to reach the right students at the right time. Experiments like MOOCs are a good example of how startups are taking strides to figure out how to go from reaching 100 students to 100,000, but these are still largely experimental and will not be mainstream for some time. We’re still in that first wave of disruption in the education industry. Remember palm pilots? That was an early step towards the sleek mobile smartphones you use today.

While some speculate the demise of colleges, that’s not likely given the incredibly rich community of learning and research that they provide. However, they do need help innovating to serve their students more effectively at a lower cost.

One area that is ripe for disruption is education content. Many folks think this means the digitization of education content, and that is a big part of this, but it runs far deeper. It has to do with delivering any and all content effectively on campus, lowering the cost for education content (something digitization alone doesn’t do) and providing a way to identify superior content.

The last ten years have been marked by three major disruptive trends in education content mostly centering around textbooks:

  • eCommerce: This is the most well established trend, and also something that many, if not all, college stores are doing. But how well are they doing it?
  • Rental: Again, this is a widely adopted trend, but it doesn’t address the underlying issues relating to the high cost of textbooks.
  • Digital: By far the biggest trend of this decade. There are no existing models for how digital will work. Right now, the focus is on digital content, but it really needs to be on how we’re enabling that content on campus.

The innovation curve has not yet hit digital content and tools, and while it’s clear that the transition to digital will happen, no one knows exactly what it will look like. There is a huge opportunity here for college stores and auxiliary store officers to play a leading role in helping campuses navigate this market. Some schools think it’s as easy as signing a few deals with major publishers, but that will actually stifle innovation on campus and ultimately limit the educational experience.

Many companies and providers that are trying to sell to your campus aren’t having conversations with you — they’re going directly to students. But this distribution channel doesn’t work. Just as patients don’t discover new drugs on their own (they go to a doctor to get a prescription), students aren’t discovering new learning content that schools can adopt on their own. It’s unfortunate, because innovation is happening, but the content isn’t reaching the right people. A possible solution can be found in Apple’s disruption of the mobile space. Once they removed the friction of distribution, apps became available on a platform.

But what does that platform look like? There are a lot of solutions being put forward by incumbents in the space – wholesalers, publishers, etc. – but they rely on buying into their walled garden. You don’t want to be limited to receiving content from only one provider when there are thousands out there. It’s clear that the platform you need in this industry an open platform to manage the complexity.

Here’s what an open platform, with an open API for digital providers, might look like:

  • Single login and profile across all students and all type of devices, media and transactions
  • Integrated to POS and store services
  • Single analytics and reporting across all content types and partners
  • Integrated to store CRM for customer support and marketing
  • Rich selection across all commerce platforms (new, used, digital, rental, etc)
  • Single supply management and licensing platform

In addition to bringing innovation to campuses, open platforms also have the potential to support the heterogeneous environment on campus (BYOD, content from thousands of providers with unified access, support and commerce). Schools need to seek out these open platforms in order to have a system that is beneficial to both students and university administrators. What’s more, decision makers should be demanding that the traditional players in the space make their systems available to and compatible with these open platforms.


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