credit: uditha wickramanayaka, CC BY NC

Many of us believe that technology, appropriately used, can greatly enhance learning. Schools have spent billions on equipping themselves with infrastructure including connectivity, devices, and staff expertise to realize the potential. And while most schools have not yet made the leap to one-to-one and the abandonment of print, they are unquestionably much closer to that than ever before.

When talking about open educational resources, many assume digital. OER is typically distributed in a digital form, and part of the viability of the “free” aspect of OER is the zero physical product costs. There is nothing that prevents OER from being printed though, and in fact, many of the larger scale implementations in K-12 have been with printed books.

So, in our ongoing discussion of how to best position K-12 OER core curriculum, the question is how to deal with the digital/blended vs. print question?

Generally, in marketing, there is a tension between defining the market as broadly as possible to maximize potential sales and narrowing it to target unique product features to a specific segment.

In the case of core curriculum for schools, a big and fairly unique market, I am of the opinion that you don’t want to exclude any potential district customers at the outset. And that means defining your product broadly, rather than more narrowly, in this case as a specifically blended or digital offering. Here are some facts to consider:

  • For K-12 schools, when core curriculum is purchased, it is still largely in a print form, though that almost always includes optional digital components. Slowly over time, the balance is shifting.
  • Much like supplemental materials, digital instructional resources are often evaluated and purchased differently than traditional core curriculum.
  • Districts still largely operate in siloed spaces. What comes in through the “ed tech” door will often be cast in an “ed tech” frame rather than “core curriculum.”
  • Digital programs are sometimes viewed as being less rigorous or of lower quality than print. This can especially be the case with core curriculum.
  • Right now, equity means print availability. Legal cases like Williams v. California have upheld that equal access to instructional materials must be provided for use at school and at home. (The always-clever commercial publisher lobby has used this to build the case that schools should buy two copies of textbooks per student, one for school and one for home. Perhaps the OER movement could make the case that it would be a better use of public funds to make instructional materials more affordable and accessible.)
  • Parents and communities sometimes feel a strong preference for print instructional materials.

Now, all this is not to say that I think print is superior to digital, but it is to say that to play in the K-12 core curriculum market, print is essential in my opinion.

Also, the suggestion here to avoid positioning strictly as digital is based on the premise that the product to be marketed is a core curriculum product (as with the other posts in this series). If you’re marketing a smaller, nichier type offering, positioning as an innovative digital product might make more sense. However, the dollars involved in creating core curriculum and the associated expectations dictate a broader approach.

The K-12 OER Collaborative curriculum is such a product, and it envisioned to be available in both print and digital forms. Often though, in the press and elsewhere, it has been referred to a blended or digital program. I wonder how many school leaders look at that and conclude it is not a good solution for their schools or worse, discount it as a serious replacement for core textbooks.

On the other hand, those who are looking for digital curriculum will be drawn to the Collaborative’s work, as well as similar offerings, in droves — there’s no particular need to market or sell specifically to them. (I wonder sometimes if our need to emphasize the digital nature of OER is in part an effort to convince doubters of the benefits of digital. That seems a tall task and beyond our scope to me.)

Because the term “OER” screams digital, is worth considering how to be explicit and unapologetic about the fact that this will be available in both print and digital formats.

This is a part of a series of posts on the positioning of K-12 OER core curriculum in the market.

Positioning “open” – digital/blended
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