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Global education technology company McGraw Hill Education made a fairly dry announcement on Monday, which on closer inspection looks to be quite a big deal. It announced that it has designated its Tel Aviv Technology Innovation Centre as its company-wide “Interoperability Hub”.
The Tel Aviv Centre will now work to ensure that all of the company’s current and future digital learning solutions worldwide adhere to industry standards body IMS guidelines for Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI). IMS is a global standards consortium of educators, governments and businesses working in the field of educational technology.
In 2012 the then sprawling giant publishing house McGraw Hill had announced it was splitting itself in two. The part it would keep would be all its financial industry related businesses, which it saw as high growth potential businesses.
The portion it would divest was its entire, supposedly slow-but-steady, education division known as McGraw Hill Education. Formerly heavily concentrated on book production the division has rapidly become a leader in online education products, technologies and services worldwide.
Although digital education technology has become increasingly sophisticated over the past decade, there has been a proliferation of education technology tools and solutions that run only within specific proprietary operating systems and are therefore incompatible with one another.
This lack of integration means that the promise of the real-time classroom – where data can instantly be processed and analyzed across students’ academic records – remains only a vision and cannot yet be completely realized.
By prescribing a set of universal protocols on which all future new education technology introductions will operate, the LTI guidelines promise to eventually alleviate virtually every education technology compatibility concern that exists today.
At the time of Apollo Global Management’s acquisition, McGraw Hill Education’s CEO Lloyd Waterhouse said its own new products were likely to be increasingly digital, with a focus on curating content, technology platforms, and pedagogy.
“The mistakes some people have been making is they tend to think about portions of [the digital content] formula, ” Waterhouse said. “We really want to put it all together in a focused way.”
The company operates a kindergarten to K12 division, a higher education division and also a professional products group – which is likely to be spun off in the coming months.
In the same vein as his boss the President of the important Higher Education Division of McGraw Hill Education, Brian Kibby, said last year for an “Inside Higher Ed” article about the digital revolution now going on in education,
“From our perspective, the transition from print to digital can’t happen quickly enough. The first reason for this is that we’re totally prepared for such a switch. One hundred percent of our content is available in a digital format – and has been for some time. On top of that, we have a number of digital learning systems that provide an experience that goes far beyond what’s offered by e-books. From a business perspective, there isn’t too much of a change – most of our digital products generate revenue, so for us, going from print to digital will just substitute one line of revenue for another.”
“The second reason, and the one I’d like to emphasize, is that the type of digital learning experiences we offer really have the potential to improve student performance in a way that print materials simply don’t. This is great for students, obviously, and it’s also great for our company.”
With all this as background it is easier to understand where the company is coming from with its new announcement.
“Interoperability allows technology to fade into the background and helps bring teaching and learning to the forefront.”
So said Stephen Laster, chief digital officer of McGraw-Hill Education yesterday. And he continued: “Everything we know about what students and teachers want tells us that educators will almost always purchase technology from more than one company and that they want all of their educational tools to be able to work in harmony. That’s why we take interoperability so seriously.”
McGraw-Hill Education’s Tel Aviv Technology Center has been instrumental in the company’s interoperability work to date and will now expand in the coming months, adding technology professionals from both within and outside of the education sector, the company says.
The goal for an LTI-aligned education technology industry is to afford educators near-complete technical freedom to select the digital tools that will best suit their individual needs, all while saving schools time and money that would otherwise be spent on patching infrastructure gaps.
After spending US$2.4 billion on it is nice to see that there is a lot of action going on at McGraw Hill Education, and also that Tel Aviv is right in the thick of it. In the long-standing wars between open standards and proprietary technologies in many industries, it is good to see such an intelligent standards approach within a major industry, and one which can be win-win for everyone.