Interview Credit: HP Matter and FastCo.Works
In almost every poll that measures the issues of greatest concern to American adults, education ranks near the top. Bill Goodwyn wants to ease these concerns by reexamining how our kids learn. As president and CEO of Discovery Education, Goodwyn and his colleagues are the leading providers of digital “Techbooks” and teacher resources for school districts around the country. Disrupting the national education system is as enormous a challenge as any facing the U.S. today. But Goodwyn is a vocal and optimistic advocate for the power of positive disruption.
He recently spoke with HP Matter about how adaptive digital learning tools are poised to transform the educational landscape, and why traditional textbook companies—with their lack of accountability and their focus on short-term financial gain—are already becoming irrelevant.
What are the most significant tech trends driving your business? Mobility? The cloud? Data analytics?
The overriding shift from print to digital is having a far broader impact than any of those single factors. Just three or four years ago, leaders in most school districts were still asking “Should I make the move to digital?” Today, administrators and educators are asking how soon they can make it. They understand that kids are growing up differently and consuming content differently from earlier generations. Kids are interacting with digital technology for hours and hours each day by—multitasking, communicating with each other, collaborating and interacting with content.
The problem is that when they get to the classroom they’re asked to, in effect, power down, open a printed textbook and somehow remain engaged. Educators know they’ve got to meet most of today’s learners where and how they learn best, and that’s not through print.
But isn’t access to broadband a major sticking point? So many kids still don’t have wireless at home. How does that figure into your strategy?
That’s a major issue, yes, but one of the powerful things about digital learning is that it allows us to close that divide. When we started working with Miami-Dade schools superintendent Alberto Carvalho a few years ago, he told us that while his urban district is huge, he wanted to start small with our resources and scale it out. Specifically, he wanted to start by introducing our digital learning tools to disadvantaged Title I kids who very often don’t have Internet access at home. Alberto believes, and we believe, that if we don’t start teaching these students with 21st-century digital learning tools now, when they’re in school, we’ll be failing them.
How does a company like Discovery Education compete with traditional textbook publishers that still control a massive percentage of the market?
It’s true that we’re a small company relative to the traditional players, but what sets us apart is that our overriding goal is not to make money. Our goal is to impact student achievement. If we do that, then we will make money. I honestly think that any company that’s focused solely on making money in education, going forward, will fail. But if, like us, their goal is to align themselves with the districts, educators and schools to improve teaching and learning, then they can make money on the back end. And what’s driving this is that, with digital tools, there’s more accountability than there’s ever been before. Publishers can no longer simply sell resources to schools and then walk away.
Education is one of the last sectors of the economy to be disrupted, and what’s encouraging is that so many people are now focused on improving outcomes. At the end of the day, these products and services have to work. Discovery Education will only do well if our districts are doing well.
What’s the greatest challenge you face as a company in the education sector?
Inertia. In education we’ve had a way of doing things—of school districts approving and adopting textbooks the same way for so long—and the longer we wait to make the transition to powerful new digital learning tools, the more harm we’re doing to kids, because right now we’re simply not engaging them with the old methods.
What people often forget is that digital textbooks can do anything that print can do, while also allowing for animation, for interactivity, for students and teachers to change the text from English to Spanish or from Spanish to English at the touch of a button. These are huge leaps in the ways we can engage and excite students about learning.
What will be a game-changing development in education in the next three to five years?
We have to discover how individual students learn. One student may be a visual learner. Another may be an auditory learner. A third may be a kinesthetic learner who needs to be physically engaged with the material. So depending on students’ learning styles, we can customize the way content is delivered to them. That sort of progress makes me really quite bullish and excited about the future of education.