Saturday, March 12, 2016

Will Amazon be the `Netflix’ of learning?

Amazon often surprises. When it moved out of books only into anything and everything, we were surprised. When it started to deliver cloud services, we were surprised. When it said it wanted to open bookstores, we were surprised. But the idea of Amazon being a global education provider – that’s a shocker.
Notoriously secretive, we can only guess what they’re up to. But this much we know. They’ve got a ‘wait list’ for their new educational service. That’s an interesting little marketing play. Keep it secret, keep it scarce – then launch. They bought TenMarks a couple of years ago, use predictive analytics to sell stuff and have the ability to deliver a super-massive global service if they so desire.
Amazon have been playing around with TV, with Amazon Prime. But they produced Alpha Four about four Senators - a dud. Netflix used data, but much more fine-grained, and produced House of Cards. Data analysis, in itself, is not enough. You need data plus experts. That's why Amazon made their mistake - they were too cocky about the data alone. See this TED talk for more. 
Role of AI?
I’ve written tons on the future role of AI in teaching and learning. I’ve invested in it, am building my own company in the area, talk on the subject, write on the subject, so I’m a convert. But I’m not Jeff Bezos and I don’t have a global platform that is as good as anyone at delivering stuff with consummate ease to the entire planet. Jeff does.
Knowing Amazon, there will be some predictive, recommendation engine, review, ratings and an interface that works. They are the masters of ‘ease of use’. They’re bandying about the word ‘open’, which is heartening but could mean anything. An open publishing platform could be interesting but the OER world is full of teacher-created content that lies dead in the unloved repositories of reusable content. If that is their strategy – a sort of share and swap service for resources, with ratings, - it will fail. Delivering smart, interactive e-books could be interesting. Add the magic dust of AI, it has a real chance.
Textbook wipeout?
The textbook market is ripe for a Wikipedia-like cleanup. They’re often poorly written, linear, text-heavy, media unfriendly, quickly out of date and far too expensive. If they have a pop at this market, I for one, will cheer them on. The very concept of a textbook is under attack and it is well on its way to becoming obsolete.
Polish experiment
There's already been nationwide work done in Poland on OER textbooks, the first country to politically support an open-textbook strategy. The government funded Creative Commons Licensed textbooks that can be translated, reused and adapted in primary and secondary schools. The huge savings for both parents and government are obvious, running to around €200 million. They plan to continue the program until 2020. Other places to watch are S Africa and Brazil. The question is whether the clout of a global brand, like Amazon, will help. The evidence suggests that private sector delivery does help. Most OER initiatives fail through lack of business and marketing skills, and remain unloved and unused. Amazon may just provide the infrastructure, marketing and skills to turn this into a global phenomenon.
I wrote some time back about the possibility of a Netflix in education. I feel that we’re moving closer to this, with the rise of AI and adaptive learning. What’s missing is the organization with the chops to pull this off. There are a few around but it really comes down to the big five – Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon and Google. It is often claimed that IBM’s Tom Watson, who sold a LMS to Hitler, said that there world would only need five computers. He said no such thing. Like most quotes from Einstein and others at educational conferences it’s bullshit. Yet it may, despite its false providence, turn out to be true. These guys do have a grip on the market, and enough cash, to make them almost invincible. As they say, watch this webspace.


Unknown said...

Hi Donald,

I came across an interesting claim recently, in someon;es blog who;s been tallking a lot about etextbooks. They came up with the realisation that etextbooks (and they included Amazon here) worked out at up to five times more expensive for students than paperware rental. Which explained, in part, why etextbooks weren;t managing to obliterate the rental market, and had achieved a level of zero growth recently.

I can dig out the blog and data if you are interested.

I kinda thinlk, as well, that lots of the current research is indicating that students are expressing, in general, a preference for paperware. Not universally, but polls, research and papers seeem to throw up a 60-70% approval rating for paperware over etextbooks.

Becasue of licencing issues - students prefer to own books they buy rather than leave the vendor woith the right to remove them. Becasue they want to have the textbook in a form thats not available for editing that they are not aware of - another thing etextbook publishers ofetn reserve the right to. Becausue they find it easier to studny for longer, and to engage more deeply with paperware than with etextbook devices. Less distractions, less fear of missing out., and zero notifications from your book.

I guess what I'm saying here is, from it's pricing history, can we really expect Amazon to revolutionise the market. And if they do revolutionise the market, is that going to be enough to sway student opinion. And ifit is, what of students are right. What if they do have better, longer and deeper learning experiences with their paperware than with etextbooks?

Donald Clark said...

Good point about the need for paper. But we've seen people adapt before - no one uses a papar encyclopedia any more - everyone uses Wikipedia, as it's wide, deep, consistent, hyperlinked and useful. The same, I suspect, will happen to textbooks. The Polich experiment is interesting, as those kids will grow u without the expectation of paper.

David Hopkins said...

Good viewpoint Don. I see the Netflix view of education the ability for the viewer/student to choose their subject, choose when they study it, choose how long it takes them to study/complete it, and also choose how it fits with the other online learning they're doing. It really is like standing in the supermarket and buying your breakfast cereal - if you choose corn flakes do you get own-brand, Kelloggs,, inferior-brand? Do you get own-brand milk or Cravendale or soya-milk? What about the bowl ... we could go on.

But, and this is it for me, the control is and should be with the student - the what, the how, the where, and the when! This will also determine how they use it - hobby, work, CPD, career, etc. MOOCs (yes, I've mentioned them) currently only go so far, perhaps Amazon getting into this space will be a game-changer (like it's been so many times before) somewhere it's never been before? As you say, watch this webspace!!