(Looking Back and Looking Forward looks at the articles and posts I found interesting from the previous week, along with reflections about how the trends they point to might shape my thinking about education and technology.)

It’s always interesting to look at the evolution of other industries and compare the changes in those sectors to the changes in another. With that in mind, I particularly enjoyed Mike Shatzkin’s post last week about the changes in mainstream publishing

In his post, Mike speaks to the many shifts in the industry caused by the move from analog to digital. These include things like:

  • 20 percent (of books across all formats) are sold in any kind of physical stores, well under 10 percent sold in bookstores that were the marketplace those incumbents once “controlled.”

  •  We’ve gone from about 5000 bookstores in 1990 to more like 1250 today…  In other words, shelf space has declined far more dramatically than store count.

  • We’ve gone from about 500,000 titles available in 1990 to about 20 million titles available today

  • We’ve gone from perhaps 15 or 20 publishers with their own distribution organization that were real competitors for most books an agent might sell in 1990 to five (soon to be four) today for the biggest books (six-figure advances) and perhaps another half-dozen for the next tier

  • More books will be published in any month of 2022 than were published in the whole year of 1990

One of the net results of these changes is that the backlists for large publishers (lists of previously published titles or titles that a publisher has rights to) give them a big advantage in terms of search relevance and derivative products. As Shatzkin points out, “one big bonus for publishers with deep backlists has been the emergence of audiobooks as an increasingly commercial format.”

Another important development is the emergence of two new players that have emerged as foundational or “indispensable” within the marketplace: Amazon and Ingram. In terms of online sales, Amazon represents almost 50% of the entire market. Ingram, on the other hand, has made it possible for small publishers to compete efficiently and cost-effectively with large publishers on new titles.

I bring all this up because those of us who follow the broader education landscape are also watching an industry that is increasingly disrupted by size and a shift to digital. This was certainly evident in Phil Hill’s post last week on higher education enrollment data.

What is hitting me more and more is that for the most part, we are no longer in a pandemic, yet the enrollment declines at the accelerated rate are continuing, particularly for Public 2-year colleges and secondarily for Public 4-year institutions (yes, for-profits are declining as well, but the trends at the public are more significant).

Here are my takeaways:

  • Many traditional students(18-22)  are still willing to pay a premium price for the “experience of going to college. This is good for large four-year universities and private universities with big brands and strong reputations, but bad for regional public/smaller public universities and small private universities with weaker brands.

  • Many non-traditional students are foregoing the cost of college for alternative education or career pathways. This is particularly bad for two-year colleges, public regional universities, and for-profit institutions, but good for job-focused alternative certifications and those that provide them.

  • Size and brand matter (I know I’m repeating this but it is important to understand).

  • As in publishing, smaller brands can succeed through connections with strong communities of interest.

An important trend related to these shifts is what some are calling the “Big Blur.” This refers to efforts to break down barriers between high school, college, and career to create a system that bridges all three. You can find more information about the Big Blur in this  2021 Jobs for the Future report, which “argues for a radical restructuring of education for grades 11–14—by erasing the arbitrary dividing line between high school and college—to open opportunities for the learners our current systems leave behind.”

All of this also makes for good timing for ACE’s new project to support community college systems, students, and employees in the use of digital records and credentials. “The project will create a national systems data collection process for credentials, employers and transfer equivalencies (housed within ACE’s Prior Learning Network) as well as pilot the use of learning and employment records (LERs) to strengthen workforce partnerships and learner outcomes.”

As with the publishing industry, so many of the changes we’re seeing are tied to a broader shift to digital. That means bountiful times for all the edtech companies out there, right? Well, not so fast. As this EdSurge article points out, it’s all about data-driven evidence of efficacy. The companies that can provide such evidence (look at Amazon and Ingram in publishing), will most likely be the survivors and big winners. Oh, and by the way, smoke and mirrors won’t cut it this time around.

I also see that we’re starting up the rumor mill again about Apple’s AR/VR headset. Supposedly, we can expect it in 2023. More like the iPhone or the iWatch?

Finally, regardless of your political affiliation or personal feelings about women’s rights and abortion, last week’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade has major implications for higher education. Bryan Alexander has this insightful post on the topic.

Further Reading

Higher Education

What’s Happened to Those Federal Regs on Professional Licensure and Reciprocity?

The end of Roe and what it might mean for American higher education

A change in financial aid will benefit incarcerated students seeking degrees

ACE Initiative Working to Expand Use of Digital Credentials in Community Colleges

Full-time faculty wages fell 5% after inflation, AAUP says

Higher Ed Is Investing in Student Success Tech. Is It a ‘New Golden Age’ or Just Vague Talk?

Poll: Biden should address college costs over debt forgiveness

States and localities pump more money into community colleges than four-year campuses

Colleges can steer away from higher ed’s demographic cliff 

K-12 Education

Launching New School Models in Phoenix

Blurring the lines between K-12, higher education and the workforce

Supreme Court rules Maine’s tuition assistance program must cover religious schools

Education, Educational Technology, and Learning Design

ACE Initiative Working to Expand Use of Digital Credentials in Community Colleges

The Post-Covid New Normal is Looking Bipolar 

Schools Are Looking for Evidence From Their Edtech. Are Companies Ready to Provide It?

1EdTech Updates QTI Assessment Standard to Enable Accessibility Features

B.C. Open Collection (OER Library) 

Trading in the Rs for Ps

Engagement and the Survival of the University


How to Break Into the Data Science Industry, According to Experts

Blurring the lines between K-12, higher education and the workforce

Technology and Culture

How China Is Policing the Future

How AI is quietly revolutionizing the back office

How will we know when an AI actually becomes sentient? 

Apple’s AR/VR headset will arrive in January 2023, analyst projects

Gartner’s Top 8 Cybersecurity Predictions for the Coming Year

Study: Women’s credit in science doesn’t match contributions

How book publishing has changed in recent decades and the puzzling question of what comes next