Today’s announcement that textbok giant Pearson is launching a new online learning platform powered by Florida Virtual School should come as no surprise to those who have been closely watching the development of online education over the last few years. My colleagues Albert Throckmorton (Head of School at St. Mary’s Episcopal School in Memphis) and Molly Rumsey (Director of Information and Library Services at Harpeth Hall in Nashville) predicted this would come soon enough in a Whitepaper for OSG from January 2011:
In the 20th century, most of the material used in classrooms came from a handful of content providers (namely textbook manufacturers). This was less the case in independent schools, where teachers were more apt to develop some of their own course materials, and pick and choose from a variety of sources. In the 21st century, one trend that seems to be emerging is pacts between some of the textbook manufacturers and online learning companies or organizations. One of most prominent of these examples is the recent pact between Florida Virtual School and Pearson Education. This is a trend that independent school leaders and public school leaders should monitor, as there are potentially large implications from not just the content coming from a handful of sources, but also the content delivery (teaching or Computer Based Instruction). - OSG Whitepaper, January 2011
Though not a surprise, the announcement should serve as a further indication to independent schools that the world around them is changing rapidly and that education that is truly “independent” is becoming harder and harder to develop and deliver. In the Whitepaper from January 2011, we further noted that pacts between content creators (large, for-profit textbook manufacturers) and content providers (large, for-profit online schools) should cause worry and change for independent schools:
We believe that this shift will eventually cause independent schools to redefine the nature of their teachers and curriculum, in much the same way that they did in the 20th century. One of the worries in education in the 20th century was that content was produced by a small number of textbook manufacturers, and thus that large states (namely Texas and California) would have large influence over the content in textbooks. This was a prime reason that independent schools hired faculty with strong academic credentials, with many (if not most) independent schools favoring academic credentials (master’s and PhD degrees) over education degrees. If both the content and the teaching will increasingly come from large textbook manufacturers (or other conglomerate entities) in the future, it means that independent schools will likely need to hire faculty (and train existing faculty) to both be able to select appropriate and challenging content and material for students, and teach that content in effective and varied means (not just the means provided by the textbook manufacturer or educational company). - OSG Whitepaper, January 2011
That day is here… who is ready?