Thursday, November 08, 2012

Pearson's Blue Sky Project

At lunch with a media banker several weeks ago, she had me thinking differently about the proliferation of aggregated content platforms such as Deepdyve, Credo Reference and others (particularly in medical).  In education, there's a rush for content going on and big incumbent education companies such as Blackboard and Pearson are starting to take notice. While these companies are big and retain influence they may not find it easy to establish agreements with partner publishers and content providers unless they can prove mutual benefit and trust. It could be a long process which is why my banker friend suggested there is a lot of M&A activity in this area where the decision point is on the buy versus make side of the analysis.

I was reminded of this conversation by Monday's Pearson announcement of Project Blue Sky which will allow faculty to search for and include open resource collection content into a custom Pearson textbook.

From their website:
Project Blue Sky allows instructors to search, select, and seamlessly integrate Open Educational Resources with Pearson learning materials. Using text, video, simulations, Power Point and more, instructors can create the digital course materials that are just right for their courses and their students. Pearson’s Project Blue Sky is powered by Gooru Learning, a search engine for learning materials.
Noting that there is so much open source content out there that it is impossible to ignore, the inclusion of this content became an imperative according to Don Kilburn, vice chairman of Pearson's higher ed division. To my mind this may be a slight smoke screen; after all, what took them so long?  Secondly, it seems only logical that they would be planning to add more content from more publishers to expand the universe of content available to their faculty users. Adding content beyond the Pearson materials will expand the options available to faculty, and faculty are already seeking easy access to multiple publishers content and don't want to be force-fed "off the shelf" products that diminish their ability to teach their class the way they want.  Their ability to build their own learning products is in process and inevitable and publishers and education providers like Pearson understand this.  That's what Project Blue sky is about.  Take a look at their video.

The inclusion of Gooru in this effort is also interesting since it suggests that indexing, collating, organizing and presenting open resource and publisher content is no easy get. Even Google is listed as a partner of Gooru. Either this implies the effort was too great even for a company like Pearson or they wanted to get out quickly into a market they feel they should dominate. Perhaps both issues are at play here.

Pearson and other large education publishers have direct relationships with the faculty who buy their books via their large sales forces.  What they don't want to see happen is something like the Amazon experience where a faculty member defaults all their activity to a common provider of both content and their user experience.  Imagine if a faculty member could go to one site to select and build their course content using content from every source available mimicking their current trade book experience.  Once they tried that there would be no going back which is the scenario the incumbent education publishers want to avoid - unless they are that platform that is.

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