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FilamentLogoI’m jazzed to report that I started as Filament Games’ new CEO this week. I consider Filament the global leader in crafting learning games with an emphasis on the classroom. Over the past eight years Filament has worked with more than 40 organizations, built over 50 learning games, and won numerous awards. It is a very cool company doing important work.

Long time readers know that I am passionate about tackling the power of games for formal learning (see the Serious Games thread), so this is a natural move.

The learning games space is experiencing a boom – more than half of the most recent SBIR grants from the DOE were for cutting edge learning games. Filament was one of the awardees. Games are a bright spot in a troubled industry.

Diversion EndsI’ve been on a bit of a blogcation since June. It has been a crazy summer both personally and professionally* and something had to give.

I’m back.

The K12 market has been in full meltdown since last November. Schools are struggling with state finances post stimulus, the Feds are not helping with threats of sequestration, and tablets are sucking up what little oxygen remains in the room. To top it off the uncertainty around the election is putting a pause on decisions.

We Are Teachers has a bitter sweet post up about the funny things people say to teachers – with appropriate responses.

Here is a sample:

The comment: “Johnny NEVER misbehaves/has trouble paying attention/hits other kids/acts out at home. I wonder what you’re doing in the classroom to make that happen.”

PICT0091.jpgWhat do you do with 112 degrees of dry Texas heat on a Sunday afternoon? We sheltered in the Alamo Drafthouse for the Harry Potter matinee and brunch.

Our 17 year old son Peter was sitting between Leslie and I, his broad shoulders connecting us as a family. The cartoons had run, the infamous “no talking” video had played (nsfw), french toast was cooling, the lights dimmed.

As the Warner Brother’s logo emerged on screen I began to cry. This final movie, at the start of Peter’s final year of High School, was a moment that caught me completely off guard.

Data visualization is a tough thing to do really well – in fact this is one of the essential 21st Century Skills in extremely short supply today.

But the world is slowly becoming a much better place to live and this outstanding video by Hans Rosling shows it clearly and with a great narrative.

Take a couple of minutes and you will get a measure of hope that over the long haul life continues to improve for the vast majority of humanity.

broken_glassToday’s walkabout focuses on a fundamental shift in the instructional materials industry away from the scale economics of the big textbook publishers to the value of niche focused expertise. I believe this is the future of our business.

In a world where Home Depot crushes the local hardware store only themselves to be crushed by Lowes this probably sounds foolish. Why shouldn’t Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt do the same in education? In their business model everything becomes a commodity and low prices rule. Indeed – that is precisely what has happened over the past couple of decades in education.

But there are fundamental and intersecting trends that are leading us away from this model and in a fresh new direction.

HAG16Over the past couple of decades education publishing has been characterized by waves of consolidation into a handful of giant conglomerates. This is a typical pattern in an industry as products commoditize.

If products are effectively interchangeable (commodities) competitors gain competitive advantage through industrial scale cost management (economies of scale). Bigger warehouses, off-shoring production, distribution networks built on fleets of professional salespeople, and access to capital drove smaller players into the arms of Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Houghton Mifflin (Harcourt), and Scholastic.

We can see that they became huge – but what were the market forces that drove them to do this?

meteor_impact_2003.gifAn understatement – education publishing is changing.

Heck, publishing writ large (trade books, music, movies, news, etc.) is shifting in dramatic and unpredictable ways. Textbooks are one of the last little corners of the intellectual property world to enter this new era.

Today’s post is a teaser for a longer piece I’m going to publish in the next few days. Mark Sumner’sThe Evolution of Everything” got me thinking about our industry in biological terms as we enter this era of rapid change.