Are Education Publishers Really Innovating?

Companies like Apple have been dazzling users with fresh innovations for years.  Publishers have enjoyed riding their coattails into the App-mosphere for some time as well.  But what we haven’t been as clever at is emulating their ability to innovate ourselves, particularly in the field of Education Publishing.

Education Publishers are stuck with the legacy of adapting their print publishing models to fit digital publishing-out with Waterfall development an in with Agile etc.  But where we can still get bogged down is around User-Centred Design (UCD) vs Innovation.  In the past, if you were planning a new series of books, you could mock them up and put them out to a test group.  You then take in the test feedback, makes changes and send to print.  This tried and tested method then gets adapted to the development of CD and DVD products.  Now we make some designs, test the designs, create a prototype and test the prototype-all the while collecting feedback from our users in the hopes of creating a product that really suits their needs.  After all, a CD has a shelf life of 10 years so we wanted to be certain that the product is ‘perfect’ before we released it into the wild.

But there is a fundamental problem with this approach.  We find ourselves creating a product for users based on what they want now, not what they might want in the future. Their opinion is also influenced by the products they may be familiar with already.  So if we’re not careful, we end up ‘me tooing’ all the time-building a product to match a competitor’s existing product.  We’re publishing to meet expectations, not blow them away.

Now, in the age of online applications we can iterate as we go.  Instead of crossing every ‘T’ and dotting every ‘I’ on the way to perfection we can get ‘near’, release and test user response.  More excitingly we can innovate by releasing features that we think will be well received without testing them at all and just see what happens, confident in the knowledge that we can change things back quickly should our innovations go wide of the mark.

Of course, Publishers can really be behind the curve here as most of the high tech sector has been operating like this for ages but big Publishers with their entrenched systems will struggle to adapt their modelling in this way.  It will require sea change in everything from the Investment Approval process to the organisation of the Development Team to the eradication of the quagmire of legacy systems.  Those who can embrace the change will stride ahead, those that are forever stuck in the rut of ‘every button must be in its place and verified by 20 users’ are destined to lose.  We in Education have to stop creating products simply for what the customer wants and do more to offer solutions for problems that our users don’t even know they have yet, let alone that we can solve.

Usability Expert of note Jared Spool reminds us all that there is a reason why Apple has done away with the whole of its UCD division.  It’s because Apple dares to dream and the rest of us just get swept up by their brilliant innovations.  We expect them to delight us with fresh, cool ideas.  If Apple only made things their customers wanted, by the time they were released they’d want something else. 

 

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