E Is for Explosion: E-Readers, Etextbooks, Econtent, Elearning, E-Everything

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Social media and learning technology have been hot for some time now, but with the sudden proliferation of ebooks, e-readers, etextbooks, and interactive digital content, technology in education is approaching its flash point.

In case you weren't feeling it, welcome to the revolution! By the end of 2010, Gen Y members will outnumber Baby Boomers, and 96% of this new generation has already joined a social network, according to author and social media pundit Erik Qualman. Radio took 38 years to reach 50 million users, television took 13 years, the internet just 4 years, the iPod only 3--and what about Facebook? The king of social media added 100 million users in less than 9 months.

At the same time, a 2009 U.S. Department of Education study showed online students outperforming their face-to-face counterparts, while 1 in 6 higher education students enrolled in online courses. Also, according to the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, 57% of experts agree with the prediction that, enabled by information technologies, the pace of learning in the next decade will increasingly be set by student choices. In 10 years, most students will spend at least part of their "school days" in virtual classes, grouped online with others who share their interests, mastery, and skills.

There's an explosion happening, but it's just now starting to spread. Scottsdale, Ariz.-based market research firm Compass Intelligence estimates that technology spending in the U.S. educational market may grow to $61.9 billion by 2013, from $47.6 billion in 2008.

Meanwhile, the publishing world continues to be complemented (or usurped) by new e-reading devices daily. It's not just Kindle; now there's Kindle DX, nook, Alex, Kobo, Sony Reader Daily Edition, QUE proReader, iLiad, eDGe, FLEPia, COOL-ER, Story, HP Slate, Copia, and Skiff, among many others--all arriving on the scene within the last few months.

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But they're empty without content, brought to you in part by educational publishers (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt K--12, Pearson Education, Kaplan, Prentice Hall, McGraw-Hill, Follett) trying to keep up with the demand of cash-strapped schools looking for cost-reduced textbooks as but one way of grappling with ever-shrinking budgets.

According to a cursory review of Amazon, an average etextbook costs anywhere between 10% and 40% less than a print textbook. Traditional publishers are on it, working with smaller specialty houses (namely ScrollMotion) to ensure their content becomes econtent, knowing that a simple PDF version won't cut it (read: There's a big difference between the presentation of A Tale of Two Cities and a biology textbook, for example).

And how does the rock star of gadgets, the iPad, change things? The iPad fallout is just now arriving in classrooms near you. For starters, there's an app that makes chemistry more student-accessible in 2 minutes than a century of instruction has ever done (see The Elements). And all those publishers aforementioned? They have big plans for the iPad. More on that soon.

Quoted in a recent Wall Street Journal article, Rik Kranenburg, group president of higher education for McGraw-Hill, nailed it--and this goes for K--12 as well: "People have been talking about the impact of technology on education for 25 years. It feels like it's really going to happen in 2010."

In fact, it's already underway. Suddenly, what began decades back as a dream and a vision is now a solid reality. Technological (bandwidth, devices), cultural (tech-native students), and economic factors (desperate schools and desperately innovative com panies) have converged to yield the current scene. Not since the advent of Gutenburg's printing press has there been such radical change to the very core of education--the written word. …