Textbook Cases

I read something today that I wish I had written. So I am going to cross post it. This post comes from Noah Millman and it is about the lame textbook thing that Apple launched recently. With that intro, I'll shut up and let you read Noah. The original post is here. If anyone knows how to reach Noah, I'd like to email him and tell him how much I liked his post.


I see that Steve Sailer and Matt Yglesias are both wondering why Apple’s iPad textbook initiative is so lame. Sailer wonders why Apple isn’t exploiting the interactive possibilities of the tablet to make textbooks much more effective. Yglesias wonders why Apple (or the Gates Foundation) don’t just give textbooks away for free, and thereby both increase the appeal of the tablet and reduce costs to hard-pressed school districts.

The answer is: Apple is a big company, and the Gates Foundation is a huge philanthropy. Large institutions are not the places to turn to, generally, for disruptive innovations.

Apple has no reason to go head-t0-head with textbook publishers, any more than it has any reason for going head-to-head with music labels or book publishers. It’s a much sounder business strategy for Apple to coopt these complementary businesses and make them dependent on Apple. Which is precisely the strategy that Apple has pursued.

The Gates Foundation is a somewhat more complicated story. In their case, I’d say the complementary relationship is between the foundation and the foundation’s clients – and their clients are education reformers, not education professionals. Simply giving textbooks away for free would upset an incumbent that the reformers are not particularly targeting, and would not put in place any structure for the creation of new textbooks. And incubating new products really is beyond the scope of what the foundation does.

Within the world of regular public school education, educational professionals have distinctly limited ability to express any kind of preferences – and the Bush-era education reforms have reduced this scope even further. The target market for textbook publishers is the politicians who set the curriculum for the nation’s largest school systems where that curriculum is set statewide: California and Texas. It matters very little what an individual teacher in Houston or Oakland wants or needs – or thinks their students need.

If you want to see disruptive change in the textbook market, then, you’d need to identify both a potential supplier of the product with no stake in propitiating the incumbents, and a buyer of the product for whom the product solves a problem.

My suspicion is that your best bet would be to have the supplier and the purchaser be, in some sense, the same entity. And I can think of two parts of the educational landscape where that situation might obtain: the KIPP network of high-performing charter schools and the home-schooling movement.

KIPP has the advantage of having a centralized structure and access to funding to implement a strategy. They already create their own curricula. Creating their own textbooks would be the logical next step. If the educational advantages Sailer sees as the potential in tablet-based study really exist, KIPP – which is already very data-driven in its approach to education – would be ideally placed to realize them. Similarly, if the cost advantages exist – initially, reduced spending on textbooks; over the longer term, reduced spending on teachers, as highly interactive tablets made it possible to stretch teachers over larger groups of students – KIPP actually has the incentive to realize these as well. One downside might be that KIPP would have an incentive to retain intellectual property in anything they created – but if it was successful, it would probably spur other charter networks to respond, and the smaller networks would be well-advised to work together rather than independently, simply for reasons of scale, and therefore to do something more open-sourced.

The home schooling movement, by contrast, has no access to funding nor any decision-making structure – but it has the advantage of having a much larger network of individuals potentially capable of committing resources to the project. One could imagine a Wikipedia-style process of textbook creation, where hundreds of thousands of home-schooling moms and dads donate a small portion of the time they already spend on teaching their kids to producing or editing material for the virtual textbooks they all use. You would, of course, need some kind of central structure to handle the programming – but even much of this could be relatively decentralized once the essential framework was in place.

Working either through the charter movement or the home schooling movement would enable a tablet textbook project to start small, yield immediate returns to participants, and scale easily, while largely ignoring the interests of incumbent institutions. And it wouldn’t require the sponsorship of an Apple or a Gates Foundation. Working through the regular public school system, which would certainly require some kind of megadollar sponsorship, would start big, would have to coopt the interests of incumbent institutions, and would make it difficult to impossible to actually yield quick returns to the most important participants: the teachers and students in the classroom. Which, unfortunately, has been the fate of all too many big-think reform proposals for the regular public schools. Much more sensible to build something in more natural laboratories for innovation, and then figure out how to “port” an already proven solution to the regular system.

#hacking education

Comments (Archived):

  1. Rohan

    Bigger font on the piece would help, Fred. 🙂

    1. fredwilson

      i fixed that. i noticed the same thing

      1. Rohan

        Great. I thought you would. But just in case, I guess..

  2. Jan Schultink

    I am not sure what to think about iBooks 2 yet. It looks like the text book positioning is a first offer of a much broader platform to develop iPad “applications” without the need for hard core coding. In the battle with the publishing industry they settled for (for now) on text books for $15 max, with the nice side benefit of increasing the iPad installed base among students. I expect that limitation to go away in the future. About free, presumably the author can decide to put the text book for free in the iBooks store.

    1. Cam MacRae

      It’s a shame they moved away from ePub (in a kinda-sorta fashion).

      1. Jan Schultink


      2. raycote

        They still support ePub for regular iBooks.They are not so much moving away from ePub as they are offering a distinct category of iBook tools for interactive text books which ePub does not support.

    2. raycote

      “It looks like the text book positioning is a first offer of a much broader platform to develop iPad “applications” without the need for hard core coding.”Yes! I thing you are right on the money. I presume this is going to be Apple’s iPad master scheme moving forward.I’m hoping that the iTunes-U, content-curation-packager, will be made avalible to all. That is where the real collaboration power-house resides.

  3. Rohan

    Feels a bit like they attempted to do a Steve, without Steve. I’m missing background on what KIPP etc are and haven’t really checked out the iPad textbook thing in detail.But I wonder if this is one of those things that Apple are carrying on for legacy sake. Jobs mentioned that textbooks were his next target industry for disruption before he passed away.And I wonder if they are missing the radicalism with which he would have carried this out. (Like launching iTunes, for example)

    1. fredwilson

      check out KIPP. it’s a high performing charter school network that is doing a lot of things right.http://www.kipp.org/

      1. Rohan

        Nice. I just put their infographic onto the thread. Thanks Fred.On a different note, I was using Lumosity (www.lumosity.com) the other day and thought of USV. They are probably too big now and are probably old news but I don’t remember seeing anything on AVC. I thought they fit you investment thesis – esp the large network of engaged users..

  4. William Mougayar

    Wow- that was a heady read for a Wednesday morning…more dense than some term sheets 🙂 I had never heard of KIPP, and it sounds like a great Foundation http://www.kipp.org/about-kipp in need for more recognition and funding. We know that big change only comes from disruption. Noah’s ideas about Interactivity and crowd-sourcing the peer-to-peer infrastructure as he suggested are more innovative than handing iPads. A “new kind of system” was definitely missing in Apple’s initiative.Is KIPP the next beach-head to allow them to step-up further? 

  5. PrasannaKrishnamoorthy

    Fred, Looks like you’re putting up an RFS a la YC now :)The big challenge with iBooks 2 is that you can only author on iBooks Author, and it becomes an iPad/Apple exclusive – the polar opposite of what Amazon does with Kindle, free to read anywhere, but buy only from Amazon.In India, states have their own curricula and there’s also a national curricula. For these the textbooks are typically printed by the govt. and are quite cheap, or even free. The textbooks rarely last longer than the year – typically they’re tattered before the year ends. The national curricula is quite good and has taken a scientific approach where possible.Some private schools may go in for their own curricula and more expensive schools, but their students are likely to have a much higher purchasing power already.

    1. fredwilson

      what is RFS?

      1. PrasannaKrishnamoorthy

        Request for Startup :)A startup which has a large base of engaged (homeschooling parents || charter schools), building their own curricula, textbooks and pedagogical resources online.

        1. fredwilson

          everything i write should be a RFS!!!

  6. Rohan

    A nice concise infographic for others wondering about KIPPhttp://www.kipp.org/infogra… 

    1. leigh

      tnx Rohan.  was wondering.  

  7. Carl J. Mistlebauer

    I think the whole gist of this article could be applied to the discussion of the movie industry and the health insurance industry; they are just too big to innovate.I don’t know much about the the textbook industry outside of colleges, but I know that at the college level, there are many other stakeholders besides just the publisher and colleges.The printing and production of a textbook only represents 25% of the cost of a book and the publisher only profits from the sale of new books.  Since a textbook has a lifespan of 5 years the reality is a whole industry has developed around the distribution and sale of used textbooks, which can be sold and reused 10 times or more in 5 years.Thus a textbook that sales for $100 new can generate $775 in economic activity over the course of its life, and only cost $25 to produce.  When you realize that the cost of a tablet is roughly the cost of one semester worth of books (and the cost of a Kindle or such is actually equal to the cost of one textbook) it would seem obvious that going with ebooks would be the way to go.But when you step back and look at the whole ecosystem of the scholastic book market you realize that the point of this article is well taken.Personally, in so many areas, this statement sums up everything:”If you want to see disruptive change in the textbook market, then, you’d need to identify both a potential supplier of the product with no stake in propitiating the incumbents, and a buyer of the product for whom the product solves a problem.”

    1. Rohan

      And, if I may add, the amount of cash we will save from not printing all that paper. Not to mention the number of trees that will be saved! The coolest application will be that we will finally have learning suited to readers, and listeners. Textbooks can have built in audio functions..The future is very bright!

    2. fredwilson

      that was kind of my point. i am so glad you picked up on thatUSV invests in large networks of engaged users that have the power to disrupt big markets

      1. Carl J. Mistlebauer

        The “solution” has always been available and quite obvious.  In 1980 when I taught an introductory political science class at OU, Kinko’s had a program where you could create course material and have it printed and bound (and they would deliver it for free to the bookstore); thus all the other sections of the same class had textbooks that were $50 and my sections had a textbook that cost $10.You will have to focus on colleges and college professors, because our secondary school system has to make textbook decisions within a political decision making process as noted in this article.You need to focus on private colleges and colleges that are part of the independent bookstores network rather than under contract with one of the major distributors.”network of engaged users,” “power,” and “disrupt big markets,” are all terms that sound nice in a traditional demand and supply system but the reality is that in so much of our economy we see “big markets” but fail to define who the “users” really are.  When I was in college, you bought and paid for your own textbooks, now most public universities set aside a portion of financial aid to cover books.  So, the students get their books and they are billed to their account.  That takes care of  any dissent over the ever increasing cost of books.

        1. ShanaC

          Private colleges still seem to offer course packets.  Depending on the school curriculum, you could just make the course packet the textbook.

          1. Carl J. Mistlebauer

            Private colleges are unique, for the most part, because they actually attract professors and instructors who want to teach. Thus they focus on tying their course information to their lectures. Most public universities the professors attempt to get seniority so they don’t have to fool with undergraduates.

      2. MartinEdic

        With integration of iCloud and iBooks social sharing is inevitable. But you need the ecosystem first and apple has it. We know this the case because one of the attributes of iBook Author is the ability f the publisher to do updates and push them out to people who already own the textbooks. This alone upends the entire corrupt value proposition of textbooks, especially at the college level.And I have to say, how did this thread degenerate into a fantasy argument about the virtues of crappy private schools? That is politics, not business, VC or publishing.

      3. JL Shane

        The greatest opportunity to create a new ecosystem is for kids with special needs, both those in mainstream classes and those being home-schooled.  There is a vibrant group of app developers (who are both creators and consumers), especially for kids on the autism spectrum (Apple featured a kid in their Super Bowl ad last year whose mom is a superstar in apps for autistic kids).  Like open source, the content of apps or subjects may be free, but the integration of it into a coherent curriculum, or even single lesson that not only teaches a set of information, but adapts to teach it in a way that caters to a particular learning style.  This is value-added, and worth something / a lot — to the point below about need for credentialing and reputational scoring.  I think a place to start in creating the ecosystem is for special ed kids who can work in mainstream classes but have unique learning styles.  Adaptive instruction, testing, and pacing is where digital can help an in-class setting or be used by parents in home schooling environments.  And, of course, there are possibilities for online parent-to-parent training in teaching different subjects or supporting curricula delivered online.  

      4. Carl J. Mistlebauer

        If I was going to look for a way to disrupt the college textbook business then here is what I would propose:1. Professors are for the most part researchers, not teachers. Most college departments depend on professors to attract students to their department via majors (the more majors, the more classes in the departmenr and the more professors). For the most part, professors are disasters at this. Through providing course material electronically, you could also provide additional information that a professor could use to make the course material more relevant and more applicable to the real world.2. You could provide a means for students using a particular textbook to interact with each other; social media around a subject. What if students using a textbook in the US could interact with students in another country using the same textbook? Imagine the out of classroom education this could foster.3. Textbooks that provide additional links for students that want to pursue a particular subject, links that could be updated on a regular basis.Your focus should not be on disrupting the textbook supply chain but rather to disrupt the whole educational system of which textbook publishing is one part. Imagine being able to bring real life experiences and knowledge to such moribund subjects like political science, sociology, and a whole host of other subjects. Why rely on a professor, someone who has dedicated their life to one aspect of a broad field to spur the interest in the subject in young people. Imagine being able to talk about political science, science, math or whatever with students from another country. What if students could actually measure themselves against students in other country via social media?THAT is how I would propose beginning this disruption, then I would allow the college students to promote this to their fellow high school alumni and let the power of the users take over from there.Now, give me 5 million dollars, I will hire Fake Grimlock, and then hook up with the professors on this blog and we can go and kick some ass! :)Is that a pitch? I suppose you want a deck too?

        1. fredwilson

          if you can hire FG, then i’m in

          1. Carl J. Mistlebauer

            Gee, I spent all day yesterday talking to students, professors, and the administration of the university and all it would have taken was to get a net and capture FG?

    3. William Mougayar

      Some textbooks are so expensive. That has got to be disrupted by the digital stuff, real-time feedback, peer-to-peer support, instant updates, network effects, social features, etc… That’s the Interactivity that Noah is referring to, I think.

      1. Carl J. Mistlebauer

        Last week while doing my spying run at the local university I overheard a conversation between a father and his daughter who was buying her books. He told her that her books should be no more than $275 dollars for the semester and her books ended up costing $998!!!!I marvel at how expensive the textbooks are for your entry level classes, that is probably due to the fact that most professors really don’t want to teach the “basics” and thus they get a really expensive textbook that covers everything and then they can do what they want realizing that if the student wants information its in the textbook alleviating their responsibility to teach anything.

    4. Cam MacRae

      I’d love using textbooks on my kindle but often have to buy the paper edition too: Until the ePad, with some kind of centralised wireless restriction of privileges is available, no Board of Examiners will allow an ebook reader into a limited text or open book exam.

    5. JamesHRH

      this is basically a three line summary of The Innovator’s Dilemma.Does not make it wrong though!!!It also explains why you do not want to innovate while partnering with incumbent providers – they will always choke out the new, in order to keep the existing cash stream flowing (Hulu – using this example a lot lately!)

  8. Tom Labus

    The Khan Academy fits in here somewhere.  Just what is a textbook now.

    1. fredwilson


    2. JamesHRH

      Hacking education is waaaaay harder than hacking textbooks / books.Education scaled to fit the industrial revolution – it came with standards and a certification (i.e., if I have a MBA from Harvard, that implies ……….. ).Whereas, if you read all the book from the Harvard MBA class, that merely implies that you read all the books.This is not a minor detail. It is a CYA hiring issue and requires a massive improvement in the quality of management of 90% of industry. Not to be pessimistic here, but that’s a ‘boiling the ocean’ proposition.

      1. ShanaC

        certification may be the thing that needs disruption, not education in and of itself.We’re still talking about textbooks ane education in terms of college/high school.We still haven’t defined why we need these institutions beyond certification.

        1. raycote

          Bingo! I think you’re right on the money there.And I do mean ON THE MONEY.

    3. Elia Freedman

      My years in education taught me that the majority of students are visual learned and the majority of educational teaching is textbook. Khan Academy (and concepts like it including iTunes U) brings education to visual learners.

      1. Susan Rubinsky

        If visual learning is the norm, then visual tests will show the results. Until you get the schools to conduct “visual” tests then you will not get results.

        1. Elia Freedman

          There are studies. I don’t have a reference in front of me but I used a source in an education business plan I wrote in 2007. If memory serves, it was close to 70% of students are visually oriented.

  9. markslater

    how many of you have young kids? (2-4 yrs)how many of you have had that experience watching them swipe and tap on a device. My 2 year old picks up the Ipad – swipes the unlock – swipes to the youtube icon, launches the app, locates saved searches, selects “how to milk a cow” puts it down on the floor and watches as a farmer demonstrates the milking process…….”its absolutely amazing to watch – and i know i am not alone. i’ll tell you what disruption is – disruption is doing away with the entire notion of a textbook in the first place – replacing it with digital immersive experiences coupled to structured conversations.textbooks are like phonebooks. An archane outdated approach to packaging and organizing a body of information. explode the textbook in to a million digital pieces – let innovation put the particles back together. ofcourse – some old world entitty thinks it has the rights to that body of info and will end up suing its customers much like the labels did i guess. 

    1. fredwilson


    2. Dan Lewis

      Wow, exactly.  My kids are a bit older (not much though) and have somehow gotten a free Spanish vocab game on the iPad — and have been teaching themselves Spanish.  

    3. leigh

      Lol well Mark, looks like you are going to be going into the home schooling market :)ps. my 11 yr old nephew recently showed by son who just turned 3 the app store.  now the 3 yr old keeps handing me the ipad for me to put my password in bc he “needs” new apps.  don’t let this happen to you 🙂

      1. markslater

        i said that to my wife before Stella was born. I went to tour one of the schools we are looking at for her here in Boston last week and came away horrified. 

    4. andyswan

      I will take the other side of this trade, for conversation sake.  The best private schools here do not use technology AT ALL.  We’re talking black-and-white textbooks and workbooks.  The kids thrive, and they only go 3 days/week.There is something to be said for the Latin approach to learning, and it’s got nothing to do with this year’s hot device.  

      1. JamesHRH

        This comment goes against the grain of most research – time spent in school has a direct impact on results, in most districts.Kids of people who went to university do better in school because an interest in learning has a higher priority in their home.For many other households, anything that connects kids to school / learning helps. 

        1. andyswan

          Bet $1000 thoae studies dont include pvt or home school

          1. JamesHRH

            There is no bet to make – the studies I have seen showed that the longer you kept children at school, the better they did.If you stop for a second and think about the environment that 90% of kids live in – keeping them in school longer makes a lot of sense.Homeschooling and private schooling are outliers. One requires economic advantage and the other requires a massive parenting advantage (seriously, what kind of freak can run a house, parent and teach as a daily routine – total envy here, just to be clear).

          2. andyswan

            Well I don’t want to send my kids, or any kids for that matter, to glorified day-care facilities “for the greater good”.I would much prefer the tens of thousands of dollars I have paid to public schools go instead to individuals choosing a private school they cannot currently afford. There is more than enough cash in the system to solve the economic outlier argument.Funny how no one seems to escape these ever-growing “greater good” initiatives. Mom is on it so kids need it and so on down the line. It is almost as if some people derive their power from the quantity of people dependent upon “greater good” initiatives.

          3. JamesHRH

            @andyswan:disqus I am no liberal.My definition of a liberal is someone who wants to take money from people who have acquired it, in order to give to people who have proven they are unable to manage it, in order to make themselves feel powerful.That being said, it is pointless to talk about your personal philosophy if there is no societal aspect to it.That is the problem with all libertarians, generally – their utopian world view does not support the basic infrastructure that they take for granted (roads, water, sewer) etc.Local hockey team’s asst GM just went public with their template for drafting players:1) physical dominance (no brainer)2) hockey sense (brainers)3) ‘people who take a personal responsibility for the success of the whole team, regardless of their role’.Libertarians typically fail the last category and it is a requirement for civilization to be sustainable.

          4. Mark Birch

            FYI, I know a lot of those “freaks”, most of whom I know from church and made the decision to homeschool.  It is a massive commitment, but not as much of a hurdle as it is made out to be, partly because of the supportive community and resources made available to homeschoolers.  Before the Internet, it was certainly harder to go that route as information was harder to come by, but this is clearly an example where technology lowered the bar for entry and made homeschooling a practical option.

          5. Mark Essel

            Man I’d like to dig into Libertarian philosophy.There are aspects of that political/worldview that I greatly admire.

      2. markslater

        i was fortunate enough to go to one of the top private schools in the UK.I did A-levels. I also did classics (Latin and classical studies) as one of my A-levels. no devices, no computers, you had a pen, and a deck of paper – and you wrote the answer to the exam question until your fingers were raw. the final exam in my politics A-level was 3 questions – and 3 hours long. I think i wrote something like 14 full pages as answers.i think you can break this out in to two discussions andy.the first is access to and compilation of the guidance material.the second is method of teaching / learning.innovation should be allowed to disrupt both.

        1. William Mougayar

          It sounds like the French system I went to. Very tough & rigorous. 6 days of school (although Th & Sat were 1/2 days)I’m curious to see how the Internet, online social & PC/tablets have infiltrated this pedagogical system today.

        2. andyswan

          I think we agree, despite my best efforts.

          1. Mark Essel

            It was a worthwhile attempt to disagree.Boo to technology! I mean the Amish are doing well for themselves (although they leverage plenty of tech, just not what most folks think of as high tech).

        3. LE

          “you wrote the answer to the exam question until your fingers were raw”In college I convinced professors to allow me to use a manual typewriter in a separate room to type my essay answers because I had spent a few weeks (years earlier) teaching myself (from a book) to learn how to type. I have no disability either. I just didn’t like to handwrite.Notice how I said “I convinced” not “my parents convinced”.  That’s another thing that is lacking today that I see in terms helicoptering.

      3. John Rorick

        Imagine if you melded the Latin approach with these “millions of digital pieces” (I loved that description above). As is often the case success lies in the integration of two innovative views. I support a portion of your take, regarding the best private schools, but the vast majority of those students attending are likely from very high performing parental units – and likely of a certain social demographic that oozes success in the classroom as a high value from birth. Much of the country’s student population does not have that same environment. You can argue the same as it pertains to access to digital tools and media. But if you meld the two concepts, you can bring efficiency like a 3 day week to education (and the lower overhead – coupled with more vocational training on the off days) with the cost lowering benefits that technological innovation can bring. Android is open, and essentially free…Touch screens and self-directed, guided learning for everyone! Once Fred founds a college after his high school is launched, I will consider being the virtual “Dean”.  🙂

      4. MartinEdic

        Baloney. I’m sorry but this simply not true. The private schools in our area that excel are miles beyond public schools in their use of technology.

      5. ShanaC

        more true than I would like to think.I grew up in a place that will be hit hard (eventually) by the loss of printed books.  These schools may be forced to adapt to survive.

      6. LE

        “for conversation sake” I attended one of those schools and even though many of the buildings were old (dating from the 1800’s) they did have timesharing and that was where I was first exposed to computers.  (See attached, a  basic program circa 1975 on punch tape. I still have many of these punch tapes with different programs stored in old plastic film canisters.).  Gates also was first exposed to computers at the Lakeside school as is well known:http://www.billgatesmicroso…But as someone who has learned much the old fashioned way (which means sitting for 6 hours trying to figure out why something doesn’t work when you had maybe 1 book and nobody to ask ) I actually do agree with parts of what you are saying. I think there is much learning that is lost without the struggle of figuring something out on your own given limited resources.By the way when I went to this school it was well known  the teachers made considerably less than the public school teachers did in that area.  About 20% were there for life and the balance were passing through going on to bigger and in some cases better things (James Michener taught there at one point). The school has had for some time a robotics program not only for the students but also for other area teachers which is taught by a former rocket scientist.

        1. andyswan

          awesome comment.

        2. JamesHRH

          Deep constraints always provoke the simplest solutions and greatest innovations.Deep immersion in a topic fuels vision.Teenage Bill Gates never built much of use. Teenage Paul Allen turned him onto the PC revolution. IF Allen had not read Pop Mech, who knows.Think of what internet distributed content is fuelling, vision-wise, at this moment. That’s exciting.They will still need to struggle, but that’s the outsider’s lot and a necessary environment for massive innovation.

      7. Dave Pinsen

        “The best private schools here do not use technology AT ALL.”That’s true of one of the top private schools in Silicon Valley as well.

    5. JamesHRH

      My kids had Apple products at age 3 – it is a testament to the strength of the innovation and design that they could use them.

  10. Dan Lewis

    What I think we’ll see — or, more accurately, are seeing — is a blurring between formal education and informal education.  Formal means in-school and related; informal is stuff like Sesame Street.  (Standard disclaimer: I work for the latter.)As @markslater:disqus noted earlier in these comments, we’re seeing devices which lend themselves well toward informal education (a) at an early age and (b) which is child directed.  That’s game-changing.  To date, most formal education began at age 3 or older, and most informal education was parent directed (as in, parents read books to kids, or controlled the remote in case of Sesame, etc.)  And the latter did not make the former more difficult.When my children go off to school, they’re going from a cutting-edge learning experience developed organically in the last few years to an agrarian-based one with roots in the late 1800s.   This could cause significant problems, and I expect as parents, we’ll have to supplement what the schools will do with them.   That’s the bad news.The good news is that there are innovations which make this easy — allowing us to continue with effective, informal education at home.  But as Fred noted above, these innovations are coming from small, agile players who are able to operate in the new environment, and aren’t the “iTextBooks” of the world.

    1. leigh

      Yes and an education system primarily created by the Church with faith based objectives and a paradigm that is completely against independent learning and critical thinking.  

    2. fredwilson

      And we need new kinds of transcripts and credentialing to support this hybrid model

  11. BillSeitz

    Does the EULA say that books can only be *distributed* through Apple, or just exclusively *sold* through Apple? What if you *give* the books away? To the world, or just to your (KIPP) students?

    1. raycote

      Yes you can distribute them directly if they are offered for free.

  12. andyswan

    Shocker– centralized government intervention stifles innovation and hurts individual performers.  The solution isn’t to try to steer the barge your direction, it’s to opt out.Putting your kids in public indoctrination-education is an enormous disservice to them. But hey… at least around here we’ve been able to successfully concoct the perfect pigment in every indoctrination classroom!  

    1. kidmercury

      ^2……this is what it all comes down to. doesn’t matter who makes the textbook. step one is to get the kids out of the slave training camps known as public schools so that they can get a real education. this is the keystone to creating real value and real profits. one thing many people trying to disrupt education don’t fully appreciate is that many parents know public schools suck but don’t see another option because they need two income earners thanks to monetary inflation and cannot afford private schools (thanks to direct taxes and monetary inflation). if we can solve this problem — the fact that schools are being used as day care centers — i think we could make some great progress. also more people need to start identifying the enemy, and the enemy is hte public school system. when they try to legislate themselves more power it cannot be tolerated for people who want real progress/reform/justice/etc. 

      1. raycote

        I don’t think it is fair or productive to reduce the whole educational discussion to:Public School System = BadmaybeUnder Funded Public School System = Bad

        1. kidmercury

          check how much money they get, money is not the problem. they get lots of money, both from taxpayers and from donors. this is documented in clayton christensen’s book “disrupting class.”charlotte iserbyt and john taylor gatto are two educators who have spent years inside the system and have written books supporting the viewpoint that public schools are designed to dumb you down. they are just churning out robots at this point but thankfully they are about to run out of money (can’t steal forever) and so the whole system is almost done. then we start anew with networking technology as the foundation built into the infrastructure from day one.

          1. raycote

            “public schools are designed to dumb you down”keyword = designendI’m not defending the present state of affairs in public schools. That can be redesigned.I simply point out that Public and Good are not mutually exclusive.I find that statement too ideologically rigid.

          2. kidmercury

            i agree on that, though the current system is in my opinion beyond repair. so perhaps i should say the problem is public schools in their current incarnation. i do believe those who think existing system can be reformed are not appreciating the magnitude of the problem. for problems this big and for systems this broken, repair is too costly; the more efficient route is to build a new system. if some rich private institution wants to create a new public school that accepts anyone, that could be fine. if some local government wants to secede from the federal system and create their own public school, that could probably work too. there are plenty of options, though most people in the US insist upon working within the mandates of the federal government and the department of education. that public system is in my opinion broken beyond repair.

  13. BillSeitz

    My biggest issue with tablet textbooks is the challenge of the single-window interface when you need both your original-text window and your note-taking/reviewing window.Also, I think we need BooksInBrowsers loosely coupled to note-taking, as opposed to building it into the ereader app which leaves them balkanized. http://webseitz.fluxent.com…

  14. Noah Millman

    Fred: Noah Millman here. Thanks for the kind words and the re-post. If you want to contact me, I can be reached at gideon[dot]blogger[at]gmail[dot]com.

    1. William Mougayar

      Great article Noah. Thanks. 

    2. John Revay

      Great post, I especially enjoy learning about KIPPThank you

    3. Ainsley

      Noah, thanks for the post. It definitely makes sense to look for supplier/ purchaser overlap as a potential driver of disruption. However, I don’t think KIPP is the best example–your characterization is a bit misleading. KIPP is NOT highly centralized when it comes to curriculum. Instead, it’s the culture and the academic expectations that are tightly managed. As for specific curricular resources–those are up to individual teachers and schools to select and develop. Many KIPP teachers decide to purchase or develop individual lessons, rather than purchasing a textbook cover to cover. But that curriculum development is happening at the classroom level–and what’s more, in reading at least, it happens out of necessity because there is so little content available that feels relevant to an urban kid from a low-income community. When I shared your post with my friend, who left KIPP for grad school last year, here’s what she wrote: “What sets KIPP apart is school culture. How this would translate into writing textbooks isn’t immediately apparent to me, especially since we were constantly changing our approach and so much of it was trial and error. I can’t really imagine what a KIPP textbook would look like.”That to me was telling: the textbook is too static a model for educational organizations that are laser-focused on innovation and outcomes. 

    4. fredwilson

      thanks Noah. i emailed you.

  15. Tommy Chen

    I don’t agree that the announcement was lame. Apple is doing what they have always done and that is innovating and disrupting new industries while keeping their margins very high. They are a for profit company and there is no reason for them to subsidize anything when they don’t have to. iPads are flying off the shelves and they can’t even make them fast enough to sell. There textbook model is very simuler to what they did with music and apps. Get the biggest names to publish to their market at a very affordable price and allow anyone to create textbooks easily (iBook Author). This will ultimately drive down the cost of textbooks at the source, which is what we need.

    1. JamesHRH

      Lameness is a function of perspective.

    2. raycote

      I think Apple is hoping for lots of free, crowd-sourced (teacher/student produced), iBook learning materials that can then be further integrated with an array of curated movie clips, audio clips, 3D modeling, web-links, student highlighting & notes, teachers notes, assignments and quizzes all easily packaged up with Apple’s new, free, easy to use, collaboratively-interactive digital course-packaging structure iTunes-U.High school level materials will be much easier to price disrupt with freely produced crowed-sourced(teacher/student) learning materials than would university level materials.Note that free iBook / iTunes-U learning materials ride for free on Apple’s iTunes digital distribution platform.I think this is where Apple hopes to inject some real price destruction into the value equation!This is Apple’s attempt to democratize the assemblage of interactive learning materials with a free, easy to use, collaborative-curation packaging tool for educators.Apple is providing a collaborative-learning-materials assembler for the rest of us in the hopes that it will produce a flood of free learning material at the high school level.This flood of free iBook / iTunes-U learning materials, they hope, will then off set the cost of the very iPads on which those learning materials will be used.Also worth noting is that within iTunes-U, Apple’s collaboratively-interactive digital course-packaging structure, there are 4 main tabs:INTRO – course overviewPOSTS – support  info exchanges between teachers and studentsNOTES – personally curated summary, notes and bookmarking of all course materialsMATERIALS – iBooks, audio clips, video clips, documents, Apps and web linksNotice that iBooks are just one of the elements that can be easily curated into the mix along with- audio clips,- video clips- documents- Apps- web links.These other elements could quickly and easily squeeze the iBook elements out altogether unless the publishers bring on some heavy weight, A-Team, authoring efforts to defend and extend their traditional book turf expertise.And if Apple’s closed system approach hits a serious marketing wall they can release all their webkit extensions and make the whole thing a browser driven open standard without orphaning any materials.As usual Apple is doing nothing extraordinarily brilliant here.Apple’s strength is that, as usual, it bothers to follow through with long over due integrative simplifications in industries where the incumbent producers have utterly failed to invest in the most obvious of innovations.

  16. robchogo

    Excellent post. I had some similar thoughts here: http://robgo.org/2012/01/20…There is going to be no transformative solution unless the gatekeepers of the industry are taken out of the equation.  The web gives us the opportunity for a completely different way to build the content layer of education and the potential to distribute that content more directly to students and professors.  

  17. JamesHRH

    I think that books are waiting for a native internet medium to disrupt them. Anything I have seen so far has not been close to the mark.The issue here is that authors have not had to be businesspeople. This is most evident in the textbook market.A flat distribution playing field means you have to play the whole game – most authors cannot or will not take Seth Godin’s advice to build their own following.A new generation will do so, as they will not know what ‘traditional book publishing’ life was like. They will also adopt a more effective, native internet medium/platform for their publishing/distribution needs.

    1. Richard

      Spot on! Think of the years it takes to write a great textbook. We need more superstar textbook authors.

  18. John Revay

    Where is Google on thisThey have a tablet along w/ great content.If you want an open platform it seems like they are a logical conduit

    1. raycote

      The idea that Google is all about open is getting kind of old!

    2. professortom

      Which tablet do you hold up as the Google tablet?

    3. fredwilson

      where indeed

  19. EntrepreneursAnonymous

    Dis-intermediation of the publishing industry and reintegration around a new platform, where the platform vendor collects the lion’s share of the profits, but can do so at a lower percentage of the total $ in the system because the platform scales with few incremental costs and with virtually no large investments in capital by the players. Options for harvesting value:a) become an add-on to the platform that allows more participants (i.e., create tools for collaborative book creation);b) set up mini-gatekeeper institutions (i.e., be the quality control/standards body for textbook publication);c) help those who don’t know how to participate in this system get a piece of the action (e.g., similar to the the “consultants” and “social media” experts); ord) be an unusually prolific creator of high value content

    1. raycote

      Nice Options List !

    2. Creative Designer

      Nice list indeed!

  20. William Mougayar

    No post-Obama SOTU? He talked a lot about Education yesterday, which is related to this. (I thought he gave the speech he should have given 1-2 years ago.)

    1. Tom Labus

      He probably wanted to but when confronted with the financial reality (much worse) when he took over there was no shot.  

    2. fredwilson

      i didn’t watch it

  21. gleslie

    The announcement was lame in that it wasn’t the disruptive innovation that many of us think the textbook industry needs. The tech community is wondering why text books are lagging so far behind encyclopedias in adopting all the benefits of the internet and the crowd? Apple is offering Britanica on your tablet, not wikipedia. I think the author made a good case for why Apple isn’t the man for the job.This quote jumped out at me:”Similarly, if the cost advantages exist – initially, reduced spending on textbooks; over the longer term, reduced spending on teachers, as highly interactive tablets made it possible to stretch teachers over larger groups of students – KIPP actually has the incentive to realize these as well.”Reducing spending on teachers means you can forget about getting support from the teachers’ union. Another reason this initiative needs to come from outside the existing framework and another reason Gates may not be eager to get involved.

    1. fredwilson

      yup. thats what i think

  22. MartinEdic

    I am a small ebook publisher and I completely disagree with your assessment of iBooks Author as ‘lame’. Even in a few minutes of using the app it became immediately bvious that this is a game changer- and we do not publish textbooks. They did the usual Apple thing: they moved the whole game forward. Creating ePub and Kindle ebooks has been a pain in the arse. Adding any kind of non text content was a joke. Now, at least with iBooks, it is easy.Why do we assume this kind of thing should be altruistic and ‘open’? They are a business, probably the most successful on the planet when it comes profiting from innovation. No one critiqued Inkling when they launched their proprietary ebook textbooks at $65 price points. They could have owned the market if they had anticipated the things Apple saw: utilize a platform, lower price point by selling to a different market ( students instead of schools), give away a WYSIWYG tool that is very powerful and don’t limit publisher’s ability to use it for any book content they own.For us, this is a big deal.

  23. jason wright

    “propitiating” – I had to reach for my dictionary and look that one up. A new day, a new word. Educating. Thanks Noah.

  24. perfy

    Wow.  One of the downsides to living in California, most of what I thought has already been said, and then some by the time I wake up.I don’t think any individual company should be asked to save or revolutionize an industry.  Think of all the times articles have been written asking if Apple is going to save the music/movie/publishing/television industries.In general, if your industry needs saving, your leadership has let you down.I don’t view education the same way at all.  I think it is so much more important than any of the above named industries that it should barely be discussed in the same conversation.  That said our education needs serious improvement.  I am always hoping for the next presidential candidate, or congressional candidate to come out and speak in favor of education, but it seems that politicians have things “more important” to discuss.if you ask me, the system is flawed because teachers aren’t paid enough.   If k-12 teachers were paid 150K a year, I think we’d have a much better education system.  How does that work from a local budget perspective?  I have no idea, but that’s someone else’s job to figure out.  Education is incredibly complex.  Curriculum, environment, student-teacher engagement, etc etcNow i return to my 6 month old daughter and her using an iPod touch (in a fisher price case that prohibits her from hitting the home button.)  She loves the animal sounds app and the PBS app with sesame street videos

  25. Miljenko Hatlak

    Do really education system must depend about single platform? Before some 10 years ago many schools started with introduction of notebooks into the education. For my nephew and niece (now successful university students living down under in Australia) my sister was forced to buy two laptops. That was all great but was really expensive.Ten years later there is OLPC (http://laptop.org) project being adopted throughout the world, while at the same time someone is proposing iPad as a new savior of the education system. At the same time, at the http://donorschoose.org you may regularly find posts from desperate teachers from all around the US looking for help to buy some graphic calculator, digital camera for their students.http://www.donorschoose.org…I think that much better idea is to create freely accessible web content available to children all around the world, independent of any software or hardware platform (available even to those with OLPC).I remember when I was studding university math (1994) , and when because of internet I was able to find and use lectures from well known US universities and colleges. At that time I’ve seen math being taught by using software like Maple or Mathematica, and that only for advanced students there were lectures explaining let say – how to integrate a function “by hand”.Unfortunately nothing will replace solving “trillions” of exercises since “repetitio est mater studiorum”. Michael Jordan has become brilliant basketball player because of “tons” of repetition and not by watching ESPN.

    1. Richard

      Repetition is the mother of knowledge.

      1. William Mougayar

        So is motivation.

        1. Richard

          Motivation is the mother of innovation. First comes knowledge then comes innovation.

  26. ShanaC

    Don’t both of these groups at the end of the day have to have their kids performing to state tests, which means on some level performing towards a state generated curriculum?Homeschool parents may be able to get away with not being quite on top of this, but a huge group of those parents are fundamentalist christian and wouldn’t be going for a super advanced  science textbook.  KIPP I think can’t.I think the long term problem/solution is reunderstanding high school as a certification. High school dropouts used to be able to be employed.  Now they can’t be.  How do you move education at that level into a system of new sorts of certification so that the dropout at 16 becomes a bit of a nonissue based on the courses he took before that.

  27. fltron

    KIPP is fantastic, and reminds me of Linux in a philosophical standpoint. For whatever reason, companies need to make money for things to succeed. Linux is a success, just as KIPP is, but the growth is limited. Textbooks are on their way out, but it’ll take a disruptive and profitable model to push them to the next level. We live in a capitalistic society, for whatever reason only when companies make money are solutions adopted. 

  28. Richard

    There are roughly 130 fields of study (chemisity, computer science etc.) Textbooks in a few areas are like bibles, some very old, Organic  chemistry’s Morrison and Boyd and some fairly new, stochastic calculus of finance, Shreeve. In other subjects, no one book is written well, but each has bits and pieces, taught at different levels, of good material (data mining, bioinformatics). What we really need is a pandora of sorts for chapters of textbooks, that is social and dynamic (takes you as deep into a subject at you care to go.) This is the disruption.

  29. Robert Thuston

    Just like the steel mills, from Christensen’s talk… “we don’t even really want the scrap metal and rebars, the mini mills can have that””we don’t even really want the charter schools and homeschoolers that’s such a small disjointed market, the tablets and Kipp can have that market”Point being, ‘innovators dilemma’ law being, you innovate in areas where it’s of small loss to the big guys, and scale from there#fs#appliedlearningfromAVC

  30. LE

    “One could imagine a Wikipedia-style process of textbook creation, where hundreds of thousands of home-schooling moms and dads donate a small portion of the time they already spend on teaching their kids to producing or editing material for the virtual textbooks they all use”Who will vet the materials for quality? How can we assume that this crowd sourced solution is up to the needed standards of education in a particular area?

  31. Jeff Baker

    As a technology executive with a family that homeschools (ages 14, 9, and 2), Apple’s foray into education content is very interesting.  Most traditional homeschool content is fairly old-school so we’ve embraced non-traditional sources – Khan Acadamy, Rosetta Stone, etc.  With a growing homeschool movement (and for many not driven by religious angles) the opportunity for greater technology adoption and innovation is large.Are there any technology startups focused on this domain? 

  32. Jay Janney

    A few thoughts from the ivory tower.I’ve submitted a proposal for a textbook to one of the big four (at their request), and it was received favorably.  I’m torn about accepting the contract, because I’ll be committing myself to two years of writing, all for a niche book, that might net a $10k annually if I am lucky (and a lot less if not).  A handful of friends who have textbooks pull down six figures writing them; the majority make less than $10k.  That means I’ll have to set aside research for two years.  Right now it isn’t worth it.  Royalties look great:  15-20% of the wholesale price; for a $100 retail priced textbook, that could be $11-15 per book.  But,  it would be a niche book, perhaps 500-1,000 annual sales.  If you figure 1,000 hours to write the book, that’s $10 per hour.  That isn’t enough to be tempting.So how do college faculty decide to adopt a textbook?  As Ph.D.s we generally teach a course or two, and we use whatever text is handed to us by the supervising faculty. Once you land the first career college gig, you focus on research, so you pick a book that you have aready used, or your friends use or wrote.  you rarely change books. K-12; that decision isn’t made by the teacher, except in rare cases. If I were a large school district, I’d demand “pouring rights”; put the book adoptions out for bid, and let them know cost is a consideration.   I agree that many people learn visually, and many people learn hands-on; but in most advanced subjects, there is a base set of info which comes through a textbook.  I use a business simulation in one of my courses; but learning the rules, learning insights, there’s a fair amount of reading that must be done to be able to use the sim.Some schools reward textbook publishing, and there is some psychological currency that comes with it.  And some faculty do it for the love of learning.  But most have high opportunity costs, and it isn’t worth it.Crowdsouring textbooks sounds cool, but you’ll have uneven writing quality, concerns for accuracy (less in a math book, much more in a history book), and not much cutting edge.   The textbooks I use are generally 5-10 years behind the research stream, and so I do a lot in my class that isn’t in the book.I’ve self published on Amazon an eBook that I use in my class.  It started as my lecture notes, and has gradually built up to a decent length (about 130 pages).  The Amazon platform is fairly easy to use, but limited in terms of adding shiny bells and whistles.  I charge students a nominal fee, then I donate the proceeds to a charity they choose (which dispells complaints that I am trying to enrich myself at their expense).  I could make it free, except I get better dowload stats from charging!  Sigh!I don’t allow electroncis in class, because too many students use them as entertainment devices when we’re trying to learn.  When we do something in class that requires electronics,  I hear youtube videos constantly.  Let’s face it,  juggling kittens is more entertaining to watch than doing an industry analysis for a start-up venture!  I caught a break a few years ago;  had a student surfing porn during class; he had several women sitting behind them, who coud see his antics.  It gave me an excuse to ban them, and after about 2 semesters students quit grumbling. 

    1. LE

      “I’m torn about accepting the contract, because I’ll be committing myself to two years of writing””Crowdsouring (sic) textbooks sounds cool, but you’ll have uneven writing quality, concerns for accuracy (less in a math book, much more in a history book), and not much cutting edge”Excellent points. I think many people loose track of this when advocating crowd-sourcing. But what I find is that people are willing to accept less accuracy in information if that information doesn’t have a cost.   Many times because they simply don’t know that the info isn’t correct or maybe they feel it’s good enough.  The saying in many businesses is “price quality speed, pick any two”. What I’ve found is that the mass market goes for price and speed. I remember a visiting entrepreneur in college who exposed us to the quote “serve the masses live with the classes” and operated by that principle.”A handful of friends who have textbooks pull down six figures writing them””Handful” – Writing books, like sports, entertainment and doing a startup actually is an example of what I will call a pyramid career (there is an actual name for this I think but I can’t remember it. Freakanomics discussed this as “why do drug dealers live with their moms”).  The open display of success by a few at the top of the pyramid creates a flurry of people trying to have a shot at the same success.”Some schools reward textbook publishing, and there is some psychological currency that comes with it.”Isn’t there also the advantage of a “legitimacy currency” that also goes along with publishing a textbook as well? One of my tenants is a medical practice. The physician (he’s in his late 30’s) has published or co-published several medical texts. He frames them and hangs them in his office lobby. I knew he had published when he rented the property and it impressed me at the time. I’m also guessing it impresses his patients as well.  I thought it was a great marketing move putting the 5 or 6 textbooks up in his lobby.

      1. fredwilson

        do you think wikipedia suffers from uneven writing?

        1. LE

          Yes. But of course like anyone else I use it quite regularly because the information (for my purposes) is “good enough”. Part of the problem is that when learning about something that you don’t know about you aren’t in a position to know how accurate something is. Just look at the wiki pages for both you and Jerry Colonna and how they treat Flatiron partners with respect to investmentsWilson Page: with investments in notable successes and failures such as comScore Networks, Geocities, New York Times Digital, PlanetOut, Return Path, Standard Media International, and StarmediaColonna Page: became a successful, primarily follow-on investment fund in the New York City area, with investments in notable Dot-com bubble successes and failures including Alacra, comScore Networks, Yoyodyne, Geocities, Kozmo.com, New York Times Digital, PlanetOut, Return Path, Scout electromedia, Standard Media International, Starmedia, and VitaminShoppe.comBy the way there are intelligent people (and also my parents) that aren’t even aware that anyone can (and does) edit wikipedia. Just yesterday I was reading about Forrest Mims and on his personal website he refers to the two controversies on his wikipedia page as follows:”Because I have no control over what appears in Wikipedia, both controversies are addressed here.”So here we have someone who (according to wikipedia) is “is widely regarded as one of the world’s most prolific citizen scientists” not knowing that he can edit his own wikipedia page (unless of course he is referring to the fact that he can’t keep up with the graffiti but I don’t think that’s the case).

      2. Nat kannan

        My start up has been experimenting with Crowdsourcing a textbook, which  after a few refinements is starting to show promise as CaaS – Content as a Service.  The idea is to disrupt the whole concept of a textbook in science and technology as it is now too static and can not keep up with the pace of change. We allow subject-matter experts to homestead specific sections (Meta tags) of a subject for microroyalties. We use free lance editors to deal  with the unevenness issue. The most promising aspect of what we have done is to create a dynamic content that evolves continuously by experts who moderate group of learners and then by revising and improving the content. 

        1. LE

          This sounds really good. How do you go about getting adoption of the material by professors ($$) and how is it distributed? In what form?

          1. Nkannan

            The revenue model we are testing now is a simple subscription per class per year. Our goal is to reduce the cost eventually to 10% or less of Textbooks for the school by displacing it. The method is to bypass the textbook adoption process and offer it as enrichment material initially and allow kids access to the portal for social learning in the lab or home.  We hope to release the platform this summer.  The teachers can suggest improvements to text for quick. incorporation.

          2. LE

            Probably an idea to get buy in from various educators that have influence by offering them advisory roles. Then go down the line to allow mention to any teacher that gets involved so they see personal benefit to their own career (or ego).I’m assuming you know about this already:http://www.opensourcetext.o

    2. jason wright

      If you were guaranteed $10k p.a. at the beginning of the two years would you go right ahead and do it?

      1. Jay Janney

        Honestly,  I don’t know.  I’m enough of an academic geek that I enjoy doing research, and i would require setting aside half a dozen projects, and in the process strand several colleagues.  That’s actually a major opportunity cost for me.I may still do it, but I go in with the idea that it’s not to make money  (if I do, great), but to write a textbook I honestly think is needed.

    3. fredwilson

      this is a great comment. i like your amazon approach. seems like a good way to get your knowledge out there.

  33. Andrew E. Martin

    I’m intrigued by the free textbooks idea & “Wikipedia-style” suggestion. Just like a freely-available encyclopedia provides a valuable public service, some version of a free textbook solution could be really powerful.I wonder if the killer solution wouldn’t actually be some mix of these:Wikipedia-style crowdsourcing of work + Khan Academy lessons + easily available on web & tablets + [insert gov’t or publicly-internet-elected] professional editorial control.

  34. sigmaalgebra

    Good grief: The K-12 education, textbook, and disrupting education issues, again.Since I spent WAY too much time in education as a student, lecturer, and professor, I see these issues as comparatively simple. Here I outline the solutions.Here are two lessons I learned in education:(1) “Learning in not a spectator sport”. The hard and crucial part of learning is the work that goes on between the ears of the student as they sit quietly and study the material. This crucial part is nearly both necessary and sufficient.(2) For this hard part, and for over 80% of what a student might want to learn in K-12 and college, sufficient learning materials are just good textbooks.E.g., the presidential campaigns are now making loud noises about US manufacturing employment. Good.More specifically, at http://www.theatlantic.com/…is the relevant and likely current or recent:Adam Davidson, “Making It in America”, The Atlantic.So, with the propensity of that magazine to emphasize the techniques of drama, the main character there is a single woman with two small children with a low level job, that takes less than a day of training, at risk and with difficulty rising to a better job.For the better job that from the article seems to be available, she needs basically trigonometry, solid geometry, calculus, and some programming of machine tools and robots.I would extrapolate that she also should move on to freshman physics, some work in chemistry and materials, industrial engineering, and computer aided design and manufacturing. Gee, and maybe could toss in a lecture on least squares cubic spline curve fitting!But what is slowing her down now is just trig, solid, calculus, and programming. Let’s also include plane geometry and algebra. I learned these six: Whether I had a teacher or not, mostly I learned these by taking a good book and studying. A book, on paper, bound, is just fine. I never took freshman calculus, studied it on my own, and took sophomore calculus. A PDF file might be a little better than a book in some respects and less good in others; the difference can’t be a biggie.To learn these subjects, mostly she just needs to get some good books and study.In the article, a co-worker at the next higher employment level did get trig, solid, calculus, and programming at a community college. Okay.Solid’s a fun subject: Once I needed to calculate the great circle distances between US cities. Hmm …. That’s just the law of cosines for spherical triangles! Also solid builds some good intuition about projections, and that is much of the core of approximation and estimation and, thus, powerful, important stuff.The article does briefly mention some engineers who need to reverse engineer a car engine crankshaft position sensor, and that work could use physics, etc. which, yes, could use some laboratory time.Still, the crucial core of such learning is just studying, and there sufficient educational materials are just good textbooks.So, how to get textbooks?That should be easy: When I was a professor, I typed in my class notes and distributed the results to the students, and my notes were a start on a textbook. I didn’t quite have access to Knuth’s TeX, but with it I could have typed in a full textbook, nicely polished, complete with table of contents, index, cross references, examples, exercises, references, solutions to the exercises, etc. easily. Heck: I was giving the material in class; typing it in is not more difficult. Right: The bottleneck was just the (mathematical) word whacking.More generally, the US is just awash in professors who can easily type in good to highly polished textbooks on plane geometry, trig, solid, calculus, and programming. Just awash. Such work is known to be easy, so easy that for professors it is hardly counted as scholarly activity or publishing.Moreover, most of these subjects are not nearly new, and beautifully polished textbooks on them have been on the library shelves for decades.Net, getting good textbooks in geometry, …, calculus, physics, etc., written and in, say, PDF and available at low or zero cost should be trivial.To what end?Biggies for K-12 and college and for the students are what subjects to study and how to evaluate the work.Well, for nearly all the subjects mentioned so far, the answer is rock solid and trivially easy: Just pick the subjects covered by the College Board and Graduate Record Exam (GRE) subject matter exams. So, there are College Board and GRE exams for knowledge in math, physics, and chemistry. There are also the advanced placement (AP) courses and associated standardized tests. My view of the AP calculus is that it was written by people who didn’t really understand calculus; but, still, if do work through the AP calculus materials, then will have at least a good start on calculus. My view is that for calculus, easier and better is just any of the many excellent calculus texts. I learned from Johnson and Kiokemeister (then also used at Harvard), but there is nothing wrong with that book still. I taught from Protter and Morrey, and it was both easier to read and less comprehensive but also good. There is also Thomas, which is fine. And I’ve seen several more good calculus texts. Bright students can be learning calculus on their own, just from a good text, at age 12.To learn calculus, just get a good text, study the explanations and examples until they make good sense, and work the exercises until can easily get the correct answers. For some polish, have an expert give an overview lecture of an hour or so. For still more, apply calculus in physics (calculus was invented mostly just for physics). For more, study advanced calculus. That’s a good path a long way into calculus, and nearly all of it needs just some good textbooks and a lot of quiet study.Do such study, take the College Board or GRE tests, do well, and no one can claim you don’t know that material.So, local school boards, aim at those tests, get some good texts for them, and unleash your students. A factory that needs employees who know calculus? Use good texts, independent study, and the tests. For PDF versions of the texts, they should be for free or nearly so.iPads with apps using multi-touch screens, Khan’s video clips, the textbooks selected by Texas, etc. are all next to irrelevant.Simple. Problem solved. Done.

    1. testtest

      khan academy would be more efficient for her; in terms of knowledge acquisition. it’s structured enough for her to learn the basics. she could then move on to more unstructured learning using the web. agreed on the principle of teachers etc creating course material. externalising information is easy compared to acquiring it in the first place. it’s almost exhaust.a by-product with little marginal cost. this sits neatly in the mega-trend of tools-of-production reducing in cost (to virtually zero).

      1. sigmaalgebra

        I’m all for on-line lectures; they can help.But for actually learning high school algebra, trig, and solid and college calculus, I have to conclude that lectures won’t take one very far and that the actual learning must be nearly all from from textbooks — paper, PDF, or whatever.  Or, as I wrote, such learning “is not a spectator sport”. Instead, a student must study the material and work exercises, at least.A lecture can provide overview, intuitive views, motivation, an easy start, emphases, organization, etc., but the actual learning is from quiet study with a text.Once one gets going in such subjects, given good texts, lectures become close to optional.  E.g., for all of freshman and sophomore college calculus, I could see one good hour of lecture by a real expert as an overview.For getting started in programming machine tools and robots, the field may not yet be well enough organized for good texts so that many lectures, and likely also lab time, might be crucial.Yes, the costs of textbooks has become outrageous, especially considering how bad some of the texts are that get approved by some state boards of education.  K-12 teachers commonly develop ‘lesson plans’. Profs commonly develop lecture notes.  Now with computer word whacking, a good textbook doesn’t have to be much more work.  Then make the text available as a PDF file for people to read on a screen or print and read on paper.For the word whacking, once I used Knuth’s TeX and a 90 MHz computer to write a 260 page document!  TeX made the word whacking quite routine.  The last math paper I published I did with TeX; the paper was 46 pages and heavily mathematical, and TeX made the typing easy.Writing a book on high school algebra, trig, or solid doesn’t have to be a biggie production.  E.g., in geometry, can do figures with Microsoft’s PhotoDraw.  Then in TeX I have some macros to put TeX text output, including math, on the figures.  How?  In TeX, once actually read Knuth’s book carefully, can put any TeX output anywhere on a page might want where it might overlay something else.  So the annotation on the figure has the same type face and word whacking power as the rest of TeX. The macro was easy to write.A geometry book can be in just black and white; color is not necessary.  So, printing needs only a black and white laser printer which likely still is much cheaper per page than color.  I doubt I have an important math book with color!  Color is not necessary!  Besides, the more important ‘pictures’ are the ones the student draws either on paper or, best of all, in their mind.  Calculus done with full detail by Rudin has no figures at all!Binding?  Nearly every print shop has several, fast, inexpensive, good enough options for binding a book up to 300 pages or so.The resulting books can be just fine.Then save all the cost of the publishers, editors, typesetters, cover designers, printers, usual book binders, marketers, customer service personnel, shippers, etc.  So, get a PDF file for $5, $1, or $0, look at it on a screen, print it and have a print shop bind it, send the PDF file to a print shop for printing and binding, etc.  So, get a book for $20 down to $0 instead of $100+.Also get much greater variety of texts and, thus, opportunities for higher quality and not just the texts that, at high marketing costs, make it through Texas or California state boards of education.The main problem is, do people really want to learn such material enough actually to work through a good text? 

        1. testtest

          “The main problem is, do people really want to learn such material enough actually to work through a good text?”rhetorical, i presume. but, no, generally not. people like to have their hands held and flat learning curves. describing how you will have your ‘hand held’ is used by some salespeople and used in copywriting. it’s daunting for most to deal with a steep leaving curve. if you think about the process, first the person has to mentally cut out time in their schedule, and then deal with the chance they may fail — something that the ego will suppress. they’ll then rationalize it and tell themselves ‘they don’t have time’ etc.khan academy has interactive tests after you watch the videos, also. (i’m not going to quote confucius on the subject of ‘doing’).a platform would be good for textbook creation. a mix between a wiki and wattpad. collaborative creation. if passion is what creates such user generated content, adept educators have it in spades.there could be two price points for the books. one for free, with advertising. and one a $20, or whatever.alternatively, chapters could be bought one at a time (as they are needed). dickens did this as the “masses” couldn’t afford an entire book at once. as an aside: he also took feedback as he was creating them. we’ve come full circle. in a way.

          1. sigmaalgebra

            I believe that we should let the students know that they actually can just take a good book, study it, learn the material well, and pass a good standardized test on the material.  To this end, say, in a high school or community college, have some successes and then let the successes establish a norm.Some of the best education I ever got was from my plane geometry teacher: She was UGly, and NASty, and really mean. So, I wanted nothing to do with her, usually slept in class, refused to hand in homework, etc. But I just loved the subject! So, I made sure to work every non-trivial exercise in the book, including the more difficult, supplementary ones in the back. So, I did well on the standardized test the state gave which no doubt torqued the teacher!So, she did teach me that I could learn from a book. Good lesson to have!Actually, the lesson has been fairly widely learned in the US! E.g., nearly all the learning needed by the US software industry has been self-taught in just this way. So, many thousands of people got a copy of K & R on C and learned the language. Now many thousands of people learn .NET on their own, first from books and Web sites and then from the thousands of Web pages at Microsoft’s MSDN site. Similarly for Linux and MAN pages, etc. The relevant books have long been one of the biggest sellers and sections in US bookstores.In much of graduate school education, self learning becomes essential. E.g., at one time the Princeton math department just stated that the graduate courses were introductions to research by world experts, no courses were offered for helping students prepare for the qualifying exams, and students were expected to prepare for the qualifying exams on their own. And, of course, grad students and faculty are largely or entirely on their own for their research.For an information technology entrepreneur who does some research for secret sauce for a new company, they are likely fully on their own!Net, there are many people who are able to make progress without having their hands held!

    2. Joseph K Antony

      “More generally, the US is just awash in professors who can easily type in good to highly polished textbooks on plane geometry, trig, solid, calculus, and programming. Just awash. Such work is known to be easy, so easy that for professors it is hardly counted as scholarly activity or publishing.”Isn’t there an opportunity here, in creating material for countries that are less endowed with such intellectual capabilities? It may have to be sold at far lower price, but it could be compensated by the volumes. Marginal costs in producing the volumes is zero.

      1. sigmaalgebra

        Big secret, hush, be sure not to tell anyone, direct from the department of Secret Academic Confessions:  Some countries outside the US have been known to buy single copies of highly regarded US textbooks and then reprint them for students in their own countries without paying any attention to copyright issues!For the high school subjects such as trig that have been taught for so long, just get someone with a good college degree in the subject and a dozen good, old texts and write text 13 in the language of the country.Then also could update the material! So, for trig, cover the fast Fourier transform and its applications. E.g., for a while Texas Instruments was planning (maybe by now they did) to make a radio on a chip. It was a special radio! It received all the frequencies all the time! It did this by having no ‘local oscillator’ and, instead, just taking in the full, wide bandwidth signal from the antenna and doing the analog to digital conversion. Then to ‘tune’ to a particular frequency, use the fast Fourier transform (FFT). I suspect that the chip was intended more for military applications (spread spectrum) than commercial!Once I knew the FFT fairly well, and it got me a nice new car and an annual salary six times what the car cost!Oh, I left out the fast Fourier transform used in 3D X-ray diffraction — a really cute application!Generally a trig book could be an exciting thing now, yes, with some software to illustrate what can be done with signals! Solid geometry with good connections with computer driven machine tools and robots — nice stuff!

  35. Bernardo Carvalho

    I find the inclusion of the Gates Foundation in this discussion rather odd. I see them as involved with more fundamental global problems (e.g. eradication of malaria) than providing electronic textbooks to children in the first world – a proposal that has rather dubious.educational merits beyond the wow factor, to be really honest. 

  36. Ryan Anderson

    True textbook innovation isn’t happening to far from the AVC offices at Flat World Knowledge up in Irvington, NY. Open source textbooks, adaptable by any and all teachers who adopt them, free to any student who wants to read it in a web browser, available for purchase in multiple DRM-free formats (ePub, audio books, pdf, print-on-demand physical version both color and b/w).Full Disclosure: I did an internship with them in the summer of 2009 and it was amazing.Traditional textbook publishers aren’t going to change the model. Unlike music, film, and traditional mass-market publishers (all of whom Apple was able to make change their pricing models upon launch) textbooks are a necessity to the customer, not a luxury. Students (in higher ed) and schools (in K-12) are a captive audience who HAVE to buy the book assigned to them by their professors or school boards. Textbooks publishers aren’t going to voluntarily lower their prices unless there is true outside disruption.I don’t know why Apple didn’t choose to take them on like they did others (always having a soft-spot for education? Steve dying?) or if they tried and just couldn’t. Either way, while the iPad is a great device that can help further education, iBooks2, iAuthor, and the new textbook publisher relationships aren’t likely to be the solution.

  37. panterosa,

    I am working on interactive learning involving games, and toys, physical and digital. When I began, I felt it my products would would be out of school based activity which complimented in school learning, but I realize my work now bleeds into curricula organically. I met Yasser Ansari from Project NOAH yesterday and we agreed the that where the puck is going is out of school fun learning and gaming which can also have related applications in schools and as tools for teachers.In many fields, textbooks are a thing of the past. Digital and experiential is where its at in the cases where reading and rote learning need no longer apply.

  38. Luke Chamberlin

    “Apple is a big company, and […] large institutions are not the places to turn to, generally, for disruptive innovations.”I think this is a strange way to open an article, given Apple’s track record of market-changing disruptive innovations.Everyone said you couldn’t negotiate with the cell phone carriers. Done. Everyone said you couldn’t negotiate with the record labels. Done. Apple has done this several times. I’m not sure where the author is coming from here.

    1. jason wright

      Disrupt? I tend to see Apple as a self-appointed consultant with a big stick, going to other industries and requesting them to reshape and refocus.

      1. K_Berger

        Big stick and requesting reshaping sounds pretty disruptive to me.  Do you need to look any further than Adobe giving up on Flash for mobile devices?

        1. jason wright

          Umm, not sure about that. Apple disruption is akin to the iron fist in the velvet glove. There’s not too much blood on the floor. It’s a better way than using a sledge hammer and smashing everything to pieces, which is not smart as it makes a lot of enemies. Who needs enemies? 

    2. fredwilson

      they are good at devicesbut they suck at servicesand i see textbook replacement as a service not a device

      1. Luke Chamberlin

        Apple is great at building complimentary services in my opinion.There’s the app store and the iPhone. There’s iTunes and the iPod. Yes, the iPod is much better as a device than iTunes as a service, but I don’t think it’s so easy to separate the success of each device from its complimentary service.Now we have the iPad … aren’t textbooks a great complimentary service?

  39. hypermark

    Fred, I love your thought process, but in this case, I think that your knee jerk reflects an anti-Apple bias. Apple could have built a tool that provides oodles of interactivity, but then the downside is that it would have had a product that was only within the realm of programmers and techies, as opposed to writers and illustrators.If anything, this is the bifurcation point between iBooks and Book Apps. The former is more canned, but easier to create. The latter is richer and more interactive, but harder to create.We can argue whether a WYSIWYG tool, programmatic SDK or a wiki-style editor is a better way to go, and I can grant that a disruptive-minded startup is more likely to think completely out of the box than a gorilla, but can we give Apple a little credit?After all, they did reboot the music biz, the telephone biz and the computing biz, in the process laying waste to a lot of tired conventional wisdom about the efficacy of delivering complete product solutions.Apple’s legacy in the educational sector is both long and deep.FWIW, here’s my take on what Apple’s doing in Textbooks:The Apple Education Event: Can you say Halo Effect?http://bit.ly/xogulb

      1. fredwilson

        my thoughts about apple the company haven’t changed since then

    1. LE

      “I think that your knee jerk reflects an anti-Apple bias”Agree,  Fred is no MG Siegler. “Apple could have built a tool that provides oodles of interactivity”But more importantly this is only v1 of the product. The product will get better.  And just remember what Ballmer said about the iphone and I do believe that is what he felt as opposed some misinformation he was spreading (he didn’t need to):http://www.youtube.com/watc…”Can you say Halo Effect?”Agree. People seem to feel that the best product always wins. That’s not always the case (Betamax). The ubiquitous product wins many times even if it isn’t the best.  Apple can do deals and gain adoption that others can’t. Because they are Apple. The same way Warren Buffett has a leg up on an unknown on a deal, or getting entree to decision makers. While I was  typing this my daughter texted me the attached picture with a message “I hate midterm studying!!!!”. If you look at the picture you do have to wonder how all that paper can be replace by a tablet.  I still find that the random access nature of physical printed paper (with the ability to highlight and move around) is a great benefit in learning.  Ideally you really need multiple tablets.

      1. RichardF

        I agree LE I love my Samsung tablet and my Kindle but when it comes to learning a physical book works best for me.

    2. fltron

      We all have our biases. One day the anti-Apple bias people will finally get to say “We were right!” Until then… 

    3. fredwilson

      i plead guilty as charged on my anti apple bias.i just dont see the world the way they do.

      1. LE

        You recognize your bias and luckily you have people on your investment team and network (as well as people who participate in this blog) that are able to alter some of that bias. That’s a great advantage. 

      2. hypermark

        Fair enough.

  40. davidgeller

    Fred – I couldn’t tell whether you were joking when you wrote “it is about the lame textbook thing that Apple launched…” I can’t imagine you or anyone else would really think what they introduced was “lame.” The tools they’ve built and the ecosystem to support it are really quite spectacular on so many levels. One only has to spend a mere 15 minutes with iBooks Author to marvel at its beautiful and sophisticated UI and the speed at which one can author a beautiful and compelling text. And, since it’s a publishing platform, the value and riches it provides will develop over time, bearing fruit as quickly as it becomes adopted by good writers and publishers.While I can appreciate some concerns over intended deployment targets and platforms and how it seems like a land grab by one, if not the most, successful computer company – we shouldn’t collectively punish Apple for making the investment in time and resources it has. The cause it nobel. Profit models, deployment issues and crazy (early) EULA issues will all get solved over time.

    1. fredwilson

      i am not jokingwhat they have done does not inspire me in any way

  41. Saket

    At Gooru, we’re developing a free search engine for learning for students, teachers and school districts. We work with a community of teachers and experts to organize and vet web resources like videos, interactive games and digital textbooks into standards-aligned collections. Gooru currently has over 2,600 collections covering all 5th-12th grade math and science topics.Check us out at http://www.goorulearning.org! We’d love to hear your feedback.

    1. palost6

      Dug into this site and this seems like a really interesting platform. Projects like this one and Khan Academy are truly where the future of education starts. As someone who nearly became an educator,I definitely can see how this would be a valuable resource for teachers and students alike! Excited to see how projects like Gooru evolve and how such malleable resources are able fit into established education systems that are typically so resistant to widespread change. 

    2. fredwilson

      sounds neat. i will check it out.

      1. Saket

        Would love to hear your thoughts whenever you get a chance to check it out!Thanks!

  42. Aaron Klein

    I view the textbook situation through the lens of higher education, primarily because I sit on a community college board of trustees.That textbook fight is now stuck between two bad approaches: the closed approach of textbook publishers charging hundreds of dollars per book, and the closed approach that Apple is taking by trying to lock everything into one platform and co-opt the publishers ala the music labels.We need a new marketplace that makes textbooks as awesomely interactive and cool as the Apple approach, but allows teachers (or communities) to write and sell textbooks directly to students. Chegg should do this. Amazon should do this. And they should work together on an open format to allow textbooks to be moved across devices and platforms easily.I can tell you that you wouldn’t get any pushback from the professors. They hate sending their students off to $150 books. They will say in their syllabi that “older editions are okay too” to try and help the used market thrive.What Craigslist did to classifieds can be done to textbook publishing.

  43. peter zaballos

    I think Apple is doing their typical multi-step advancement into a broad new market, and 12 months from now people will see they underestimated Apple’s reach into publishing. The focus on K-12 lets them try out the overall model (content authorship, awareness and distribution, usage and retention) in a way that doesn’t fully disrupt the status quo). The target users are parents/families, not educators or school districts, this will limit the servable market to the affluent or the highly motivated, since parents don’t currently foot the bill for textbooks in K-12, but given them meaningful enough adoption and usageI also think this will let Apple gauge demand and value, so they can figure out the broader landscape of disrupting the textbook business model wrt school districts and statewide mandated purchases This helps them begin to understand how to attack the real market – college level textbooks, where parents and students do pay out of pocket. It will also help them evaluate who will sign up as early adopter authors, what will motivate them and what will create a high quality product. (Amazon has been doing a similar thing with their Kindle publishing division in NYC mostly targeted at fiction/non-fiction).Think about where Apple is today with AppleTV, and look at their textbook initiative, and I think in both cases you’ll see long term plans being brought forth into the market a little at a time, to enable maturation of a solution and market timing to align.I think if Apple had gone straight to the college market they would have created a firestorm of controversy – way too threatening to the existing textbook publishers’ business and business model. The current approach let’s them get to this market less obviously.

  44. Trent Spriggs

    An apps approach for texts would be the ticket… That or put the best out there for free (to students) online, the authors getting royalties from schools or school boards…

  45. Mark

    This is a smart take on how to disrupt the bloated educational publishing industry and Apple’s incumbent proprietary stake. This also parallels some suggestions I’ve made for open sourcing curriculum development here on GothamSchools: http://gothamschools.org/20



    1. William Mougayar

      So, you are saying Apple is disrupting textbooks, Ok. But Noah is saying Apple missed a chance to disrupt the whole education system & that’s more difficult but probably not their objective.



        1. William Mougayar

          I totally agree that a “cheaper” iPad would be a great thing and will suck up demand. – posted via http://engag.io

  47. a_student

    From someone that is actually a student, we are creating a generation of expert test takers and essay bullshitters and not students that can think critically and spontaneously. There is a difference between “learning” and “mastery” of material. I agree the learning should be in a more directed reading format for the upper tier of students, rather than lectures. Of course, the more interactive the better.But for mastery, you need to have engaging discussions with people smarter and more experienced than you. You need to constantly have your views challenged and challenge others. In person meetings then become less lecture and more discussion of material already learned. Motivating this is another challnge.

  48. Guest




    2. fredwilson

      they do that regularly

  49. Amy Bevilacqua

    Love the discussion, but not a fan of this guest post. Two significant flaws in this argument are clouding what is otherwise a worthwhile read on this topic. (Noah–correct me if I’m misinterpreting what you’ve written.)First, the idea that KIPP, a highly respected network of charter schools, should save money by hiring fewer teachers is a strange argument to make. If you’re looking for a quantitative metric to start with regarding teachers, look at teacher-student ratio, not the aggregate cost of hiring teachers and keeping them on staff. Using tablets to supplant teachers can’t be what Noah intended to argue here.Second, the idea that home-schoolers should be turned to for providing crowd-sourced classroom materials is naive. To start with, the vast majority of homeschoolers use content from third party providers and do not own that content themselves–nor would any content they’ve originated necessarily translate well for broader use. The lack of focus on the quality of the materials is what is surprising here. Crowd-sourcing content is an idea being actively tested by many EdTech start-ups, but the impressive ones are focused on propagating the work of master teachers. (Check out http://www.learnzillion.com)If anyone in NYC is interested in learning more about using technology to disrupt education, attend the quarterly demo and discussion series sponsored by http://www.startl.org and held at General Assembly. (I’m not affiliated with Startl, just a fan.)

  50. Ben Kamens

    Serendipitously timed post for our team. We had our Khan Academy team offsite today, and in between building crazy structures out of foam and solving brainteasers, we went back and forth a lot on this exact issue.Completely agree that the homeschooling movement and quick-moving, forward-thinking schools like KIPP…the “natural laboratories for innovation”…are likely key components for any disruption that wants to eventually enter “regular” classrooms.Great article.

  51. Susan Rubinsky

    Disclaimer: My son attended an Achievement First middle school (very similar to KIPP) in New Haven, CTThere are several divergent conversations going on here:1. Paper vs. Digital texts vs. Disruptive Learning2. Generational differences in technology adoption vs rate of adoption in schools3. Public vs. Private schools4. Watching/Observing vs. StudyingI am an early adopter YET I still don’t want a digital reader. Why? Because there is no digital reader on the market which will allow me to write meaningful margin notes and allow me to cross-reference (hyperlink, or something more meaningfully disruptive) within text and without text in a way that is meaningful to my understanding of the text. So, I still sit around in a house full of books and am able to pull one off the shelf, look up a reference, and extrapolate (often based on my margin notes and cross-references).If I were Christopher Hitchens, I would be less bound to my books and more to my memory. But that is an argument for more studying and less watching.

  52. Joseph K Antony

    Just thinking on how digital text books will impact the emerging economies like India boggles ones mind.India  recently launched the Aakash tablet http://en.wikipedia.org/wik… priced at just $50.

  53. markslater

    i just signed up for Udacity. Anyone heard of this? Class starts on feb 20th!

  54. Joseph K Antony

    The impact that digital text books could have on emerging economies, truly boggles the mind. Recently India launched a $50 tablet .http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aakas

  55. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

    I’m glad you saw the quote in my Tumblr and liked it! Noah is a friend of mine, I’ve DMd you his email. (He’s a great, really smart guy and lives in Brooklyn.)

    1. fredwilson

      brooklyn – i like him even more now!

    2. John Revay

      DMd ?

      1. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

        On Twitter.

  56. jason wright

    I came across the Kindle Fire yesterday in a shop. It’s quite compact and thin. I like the overall weight and bulk proposition more than the ipad for reading. Imagine if every school kid had one. Wow. 

  57. martinowen

    I think the Apple development disrupts the market – I do not think it will disrupt education.(aside….. deos Andy Swan seek out medieval surgery too – or is applying scientific and technological advances ok in medicine?). Victorian schools were very good at using Victorian technology.

  58. John Revay

    Just got a notification that iTunes on my PCiTunes 10.5.3 allows you to sync interactive iBooks textbooks to your iPad. These Multi-Touch textbooks are available for purchase from the iTunes Store on your PC or from the iBookstore included with iBooks 2 on your iPad.

  59. John Halloran

    Sorry for being so late to the game here, but I have to say that I’m a bit confused by the conversation. In the first place, I completely agree with Fake Grimlock and MartinEdic that the really interesting part of Apple’s announcement is the authoring tool. They’re giving away a tool to allow anyone to create and distribute multi-media ‘textbooks’, where both creation and distribution are major improvement over the current state of the art.In fact, iBooksAuthor provides a way for KIPP or Homeschoolers to do exactly what Noah is advocating. Using iBooksAuthor, either (or both) of these players can create and distribute new ‘textbooks’ easily. Surely that fact does not sound quite as sexy as we might like, but it opens up some really interesting possibilities. Think of PodCasts in the early days of iTunes: no doubt many of them were awful, but there were some really interesting podcasts as well, and some went a long way toward improving music discovery (though it’s still broken).Secondly, with all of the debate going on here about the ‘best’ way to educate kids (the Latin approach versus ‘immersive digital experiences’), it makes sense point out that there is not be any single ‘best’ approach. Anyone who visits my daughter’s fourth grade class will quickly see that different kids need very different things. Many love reading books, some prefer the visual approach of Khan videos and exercises, and others would do better in a directed group work setting. School of One has a great story to tell here, but what is interesting about the Apple announcement is that they’ve created a much better way to put multiple modes of learning into a single ‘textbook’ so that different learners can approach the same material in different ways. Again, perhaps this is not the Nirvana that some might like to see out of the box, but it is a great step forward.While I agree that Apple’s announcement was not, in itself, terribly disruptive, it’s very exciting to me because it puts tools into the hands of many who have both incentive and ability to create real disruption.

    1. fredwilson

      Can the books you author with these tools be distributed on the web?



      2. John Halloran

        My understanding is that you can create/edit the books on a Mac, and the book is just a file, so can be distributed any way you like (including via the BookStore). This makes distribution and collaborative creation (homeschoolers) really simple.But the new format books seem to require an iPad fro reading. [I know, I know].Again; not Nirvana, but significant forward progress.

        1. Carl J. Mistlebauer

          If you create a book via ibooks and you charge for the book, then Apple gets a cut.

  60. Luke Chamberlin

    They are building an app store for educators.Apple sold 11M iPads last quarter. It’s going to start making even deeper inroads into the school systems, and when it does it means market access.Market access means authors will start producing content – just like the app developers did.The content is already out there. Some elementary school teacher from Iowa is going to package her 20 years of notes, lessons and homework assignments into a tutoring supplement and make $100K.That’s all it takes – one professor or independent teacher to release a book and make $100K. That’s what happened with the app store. Then everyone will want to do it, and things will change.It won’t begin in the public school systems. It will begin in universities, home schools and independent schools (places where bureaucracy does not get in the way of textbook choice). It will be after school training supplements and interactive SAT prep books. Educational children’s books.The genius is of the business model is, once you have a hit you force everyone to buy the updated version of your book for their whole class each and every year.If Apple’s smart they’ll look at the success of ‘freemium’ apps and allow that model here. Free textbooks, click to purchase additional chapters, problems sets, solutions to the homework.They just need that first hit.

    1. fredwilson

      i just hate the closed model of all of this

  61. Nikki Navta

    This essentially describes the “democratization of education”. We no longer need to wait for textbook publishers (and state education boards) to tell us what content our kids should learn. Wiki-fying educational content would enable people who really care about education (rather than those who are in education solely as a business) to shape the minds of our future generations. That is the exciting news. The technology is simply an enabler.

  62. Morgan Warstler

    Steve Sailer is a despicable racist with a readership of white supremacists.  That Noah finds him linkable (and then that I am shocked to find it here, I very much doubt Fred knows who Sailer is) makes the rest of the discussion moot.The American Conservative walks a very fine with Sailer under the guise that we need to be scientific on how unintelligent brown people are… motives matter, even in science.

  63. Dave W Baldwin

    Interesting post and comments. Remember, there are even more barriers to accomplish a ‘magic textbook’ via tablet that will save Education than being discussed.The firewall system, number one.  Next is the cost of the tablets, moving beyond the retail price, but how kids take care of things, and then theft.Then there is the material used in the text book applied to instruction.  Critical thinking does not happen via magic app.  What is developed needs to aid the teacher, not threaten to eliminate them.I agree with the consensus regarding the changing of our Education System.  It will be a big job and , unfortunately, many who do not belong will be at the table working on it. 

  64. Danbrewsterbarber

    I am a former TFA teacher and very familiar with KIPP and similar charter programs. Now deeply intrenched in the VC backed startup world, I see amazing market potential in the Charter School System for disruptive innovation in the Education sector. A great way to gain traction and prove product viability.

    1. fredwilson

      is KIPP a strong operator?there has been some debate in this thread about that

      1. Lee Blaylock

        Fred,RE: Your question about KIPP being a strong operator, I had dinner with Richard Barth, CEO of KIPP, a couple of weeks ago.  They’re a very strong operator and receive significant funds from the Gates Foundation.  You might be interested to know that Richard lives in NYC and wife is Wendy Kopp, who founded Teach for America.  She was 1 grade behind me in high school in Dallas.  KIPP has 109 schools and represents 5% of the Houston, TX ISD.  Mike Fineberg, the founder of KIPP, lives in Houston.  No org is perfect, but they have a proven model that works.I’d be happy to introduce you to Richard so you can learn more as the textbook/tablet discussion is quite a ripe field for reinvention.  If interested, email me at lblaylock [at] whoat [dot] net and I’ll connect you two.

  65. leigh

    I actually think giving things away for free in these circumstances does more to stunt innovation then stimulate it.  Creating an ecosystem where people can earn a living and it’s worth their while to continually participate goes a great deal further (although i’d agree about the teacher vs. the text book)

  66. fredwilson

    Free is the answer to most things in education

  67. leigh

    Maybe – although the exception does’t always prove the rule.  I guess I just spent three weeks with my brother who lives in SE Asia and has done so for 25 yrs.  LIstening to him talk about development aid, education and the complexity of that greater good and effectively changing the world has definitely changed my perspective.I’m trying to convince him to start a blog and eventually write a book — working title – The Road To Hell…….

  68. JamesHRH

    Anyone who uses Wikipedia as a source, when in a serious discussion, takes a huge credibility hit. I have had someone argue legal principles with me, while surfing Wikipedia, btw!Wikipedia is a starting point to learning, not an end.The same can be said about free information.

  69. fredwilson

    I agree that all education is hyperlocal

  70. andyswan

    Then why do private schools do so much better than “free” public schools?

  71. leigh

    On that scale for education right now i think it is … but your right there are a bunch coming up that will change things i’m probably being too cynical this morning. – posted via http://engag.io

  72. Rohan

    I see. the question I was attempting to answer was more basic – what is KIPP.. Thanks for background info!

  73. JamesHRH

    Parents are the third leg of the education stool.

  74. William Mougayar

    What was the key thing that changed your perspective? I’m intrigued. 

  75. JamesHRH

    Leigh – I recommend Alan Bettie’s book False Economy on this topic – http://www.amazon.ca/False-… .It is The Tipping Point of this topic.

  76. JamesHRH

    Private school parents put more attention / pressure on kids.

  77. John Rorick

    Too broad a statement. I am sure plenty of folks depending upon region could argue the contrary. I can in the case of my children’s public school district. It all needs to be imploded. 

  78. ShanaC

    You can pay for better teachers/better benefits/better parents. (parents are a big part of education)

  79. Elia Freedman

    Public schools aren’t free. The costs are hidden from the buyer.

  80. LE

    “why do private schools do so much better”It’s an all around better learning environment for one thing. Filled with all sorts of good and fun experiences that encourage learning as well as people who care about learning.Just to start you have a small group of kids that come from families that care enough to send their kids to a private school. And that is not just a money thing there were poor kids on scholarship at my school as there are at any private school. My school was quaker but had a large jewish population as well. We attended meeting for worship which is a truly unique experience where people would just stand up and say something almost random about the world or how they felt about something. Maybe there would be a loose topic maybe not (just like this blog).Behavior isn’t a problem because if the child doesn’t tow the line they get kicked out.  You don’t have that stick in public school (although I would imagine you do in magnet schools).And at least at the school I went to (at that time) everyone cared about learning. Other kids were motivated and you weren’t hassled for studying and being curious. It was a great environment and very motivating. It was fun. You got the freedom that could never be given to you at a larger public school  with all the constraints that come with that. Learning was encouraged and part of the culture. People were nice. Both adults and kids. It was a strange experience coming from a public school with all the nastiness.  I was in such shock I cried the first week it was so different than the school I came from (other kids held doors open for you and everyone seemed to care). You were also empowered with responsibility. We scheduled our own classes just like in college. It was a totally different learning experience.It was at this school that I was first exposed to african americans that weren’t the ones that I had been exposed to growing up and watching the evening news (this was the 70’s by the way) and that changed my entire perspective on race.  One of my classmate’s father was a co-founder of the civil rights movement and was with with Martin Luther King when he was assassinated.  One of my african american teachers father was Secretary of Transportation under Gerald Ford.

  81. Alexander Close

    As one who attended a private, something I’ve thought of before…Is it that the private schools have a stronger curriculum and better teachers to back it up?  Or is it because private schools aggregate parents who really care – enough to both pay the $ and make sure their kid does his homework every evening.  While probably a combination, I’d lean towards the latter.

  82. Can

    Maybe because all resources are free in private schools for children there? 

  83. fredwilson

    i didn’t mean the teachers. i meant the tools.

  84. andyswan

    And so do their teachers….and their textbook writers.Good things happen when you get your kids out of the big social expwriment

  85. Rob Hunter

    I wonder if you can isolate for that in a study – or if anyone has.

  86. JamesHRH

    @robvhunter:disqus on an ad hoc basis, any private school parent can tell you this is true.More private school families have the wealth to have a stay at home parent. More and more of those parents at home are university educated. Hell, the board of our school is 66% female lawyers (6 of 9).Female professionals put more emphasis on education than any other parental segment other than home schooling parents (wildly unsupported statement, just to be clear ;-)I can tell you that a relatively new private school in my city (<15 yrs old) is known to lead the city in junior high suicide interventions. When any private school parent is told this fact (we received it directly from an ex-teacher), they all say them the same thing ‘no surprise.’Everyone know that the parent base of the school is success oriented and that the goal of the school is to put graduates in ‘name schools’ – resume building, not learning, is why the place is there.

  87. awaldstein

    Just not true.This implies that the wealth of the parents in some way is correlative to their belief in education.Everyone in my family went to public schools. That was life. They were OK.But my dad was a teacher and learning and pursuing your interests was a religion in our home.Implying that wealth is correspondent to the intent of the parents rubs me the wrong way big time. Just wrong.

  88. JamesHRH

    @awaldstein:disqus I apolgize for not having the references at my fingertips. I am fairly certain that an entire chapter of Freakonomics or a Gladwell book was on this point.And, of course, you are using the old debating trick of arguing against the general with an emotive specific.I know a guy who had a barber for a dad. 5 kids, 5 Ivy league degrees, he considers himself a bit of a disappointment, b/c his Cornell SW Eng degree pales to the 3 or 4 MDs in his family.Pops read 5 newspapers a day and valued education. Moved form the old world just to give his kids a chance.Love those stories. Love your story.That doesn’t make them the norm.And wealth does not make people better parents. It does, however, make the average wealthy parents more committed to education (as I have noted, sometimes for less than laudable goals).People with university degrees are not necessarily better parents – but they value and are more committed to education than people without.If they world of higher education collapses, which it may well be doing, and is replaced with a more experienced based system (i.e., apprenticeships), degrees may lose their lustre and people may actual focus their children on the key knowledge of life;- self- human nature (this really is the biggie)- craft or calling

  89. Ruth BT

    That may be true to a point and my very recent personal experience is that the results aren’t necessarily different.Despite the attention, the actual learning support is the key. This comes down to the teacher who is supporting and also how well a parent can advocate. Whether you pay high school fees or not the issues are still the same.Does the teacher care enough to teach the child in the manner most suitable?

  90. William Mougayar

    Very much agreed. I think there are 3 macro variables: 1) The parents & immediate family, 2) the culture around the society the kids live in, 3) the schooling system. To top it off, the Internet interferes with #2 and #3, but the parents/kids relationship is a very strong foundation, a sort of equilibrium factor. 

  91. JamesHRH

    I agree charlie – if kids were glued to a nonfiction internet medium the way they are glued to a DS, we’d be golden.

  92. andyswan

    Ours spends its money fighting a Supreme Court decision that was supposed to stop them from bussing 5 year-olds for 70 minutes (and up to 2 bus transfers) in order to promote diversity of skin color. It’s embarrassing how quickly EVERYONE that moves here is told in no uncertain terms to either move out of country or get out your wallet for private school.

  93. John Rorick

    At this point in time are there huge credibility risks in making standard math, english, and science concepts “free”. We need to keep buying innovative “text books” because Algebra keeps evolving????

  94. JamesHRH

    @twitter-202248892:disqusIts not the information, its the education.Institutions back the implication that their graduates have learned. WIkipedia gives you information, which, arguably, is more dangerous to someone relying on your ‘knowledge’.You are right that algebra has not changed much in the last 50 years, but methods of teaching / learning algebra sure have.

  95. JamesHRH

    @ccrystle:disqus to be clear, Wiikipedia is cool and schools are broken.Free information, however it is sourced, is not the long term answer.Accountability to understanding of the material is the issue. That is not delivered by Wiki or Khan.I am sure the textbooks you reviewed are wanting – the author has never had to face a parent, teacher or student, is my guess.As for volunteers, they have the worst track record of creating standardization across large groups. That’s another ‘ocean boiler’.

  96. JamesHRH

    @ccrystle:disqus I don’t have time to organize the teachers, I am working on the ‘master’s medium’.Glad we could get to common ground, though.

  97. andyswan

    Teachers in private schools make substantially less. The spending per student is significantly lower. Agree on parents as the key.

  98. jason wright

    They’re hidden by the seller. The cost is to the child’s future.

  99. panterosa,

    I am working directly on that issue. Learning via games, both on and off screenIt is the future.

  100. raycote

    “and examining what the collective can do to produce high-quality textbooks at little or no cost”What ever the collective can do will be vastly accelerated by accessible, easy to master, assembly tools like iBook Author.If the intent were to produce free iBooks which have no Apple distribution-platform tax, then at what iPad price level does the concern over Apples closed system wane.An iPad 2 level device at ?$399 – $299 – $199Apple can probably reach at $299 in the next year or so.

  101. fredwilson

    if i can post something every day that forces you to comment charlie, i feel good about what i’m doing with this blog

  102. K_Berger

    Not everything can be a game, otherwise kids don’t learn how to learn something without being entertained.  I have heard this referred to as ‘the Sesame Street effect’.I am afraid of a generation that can only learn while being entertained (games) and/or can only absorb information in short bullet points (PowerPoint).  

  103. panterosa,

    I agree that not everything can be a game. I disagree that games primarily entertain. Games are played by sets of rules and successful play is creative engagement with the rules. Winning creates a sense of fun. Regarding PowerPoint, I was trained by Edward Tufte, but even before that I had never resorted to any such format to deliver information. 

  104. leigh

    oh that’s such a bigger conversation. Jeff has lived in SE Asia for 25 yrs and spent 10 of them working for development agencies and the last 15 doing so much fascinating stuff it would blow your mind. He really is one of the most intriguing people i know. – posted via http://engag.io

  105. leigh

    socio-economic situation of the family certainly has huge impact on kids regardless of public or private education (for the record, my daughter goes to public high school in Toronto but ti’s an arts school so pretty much, i have the gov’t paying for her private education with public education diversity which in my mind, is a ‘perfect’ circumstance :)- posted via http://engag.io

  106. leigh

    my biggest issue and why i haven’t sent my kids (and won’t send them) to private school has to do with not wanting them only to have rich friends. There is a lack of diversity that exists when the cost of entry is a particular socio-economic background. – posted via http://engag.io

  107. Ainsley

    All the reports are on the KIPP website: http://kipp.org/about-kipp/…I’m also a huge fan of the report card KIPP adopted last year:http://www.kipp.org/reportc…The report card is both a rebuttal to charges of “skimming” and a tool to keep the organization focused on its long-term mission. Here are the key questions: Are we serving the children who need us?Are our students staying with us?Are KIPP students progressing and achieving academically?Are KIPP alumni climbing the mountain to and through college?Are we building a sustainable people model?Are we building a sustainable financial model?

  108. Ainsley

    It doesn’t make sense to say that “overall charters have performed no better than public.” First, because charters ARE public schools. Second, because “on average” metrics are meaningless when you’re operating at the edge of innovation. On average, most startups fail–does that mean we’re going to abandon our approach to capitalism? When you look at the best charter studies, which do apples-to-apples comparisons of lotteried-in and lotteried-out students, you see that there’s enormous variation in charter performance. However in cities like New York, that carefully manage their charter portfolios, the lotteried-in students make more progress toward closing the achievement gap than their lotteried-out peers. This is the best-in-class study on the topic, done by Caroline Hoxby:http://www.nber.org/~schoolhttp://www.nber.org/~school…The key finding: “On average, a student who attended a charter school for all of grades kindergarten through eight would close about 86 percent of the ‘Scarsdale-Harlem achievement gap’ in math and 66 percent of the achievement gap in English.”

  109. William Mougayar

    Wow. We’re due for coffee. I’ll ping you.- posted via http://engag.io

  110. andyswan


  111. Ainsley

    To clarify: charters can be privately run, but they are still public schools: they are open to all students and don’t charge tuition. They also have to meet the state/ federal requirements that apply to regular public schools.