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IHE Article With Commentary by Delta Initiative’s Phil Hill

Steve Kolowich from Inside Higher Ed had an article published today about the Kno lawsuit against Cengage, focusing on how this lawsuit shows the blurry boundaries between different educational technologies. As part of the article, Steve interviewed Phil and had several quotes. In addition, the article also quoted one of our best customers – Julie Ouska from Colorado Community College System.

With dozens of technology companies competing to sell better and cheaper wares to college students and professors, the digitization of higher education can be exciting. It can also be chaotic.

Just ask Julie Ouska, the chief information officer for the Colorado Community College System and interim executive director of the system’s online branch. The system’s 13 colleges use one institutional learning management system (LMS), but its instructors assign textbooks by various publishers — some of which offer digital extras, such as online tutorials and quiz generators with auto-grading functions.

The features that publishers often push alongside their e-textbooks often overlap with the LMS and with each other, says Ouska. With so many tools and platforms in play, it can be difficult to achieve continuity as instructors and students conduct the business of delivering, and receiving, an education in the digital realm.

“They’re all trying to stake out their turf,” she says. Even if the tools are useful, “It’s very, very frustrating when you’re trying to keep things very clear and simple for students.”

Steve then explained the lawsuit that Kno filed against Cengage, based on Cengage attempted to terminate their partnership where Kno published Cengage textbooks in digital format with different value-added features.

Whether or not the judge makes Cengage honor its licensing agreement until next September, the lawsuit would seem to portend the end of the relationship between Kno and Cengage one way or another, says Phil Hill, executive vice president of the Delta Initiative, a higher ed consulting firm.

Long term, such a break-up could prove ominous for any companies looking to build their business on “enhancing” student interactions with publisher-owned content.

“Strategically, companies such as Kno have really made a deal with the devil,” Hill says. “They are heavily dependent on the publishers to provide the [e-textbook] content.” The Kno app may add value to e-textbooks, but it also derives all its value from them. “That is a major strategic issue for [Kno’s] business model,” says Hill. It suggests that publishers can dictate the terms of any licensing agreement — and pull the plug if necessary, he says.  

Read the whole article – it’s an interesting case study about some of the perils of educational technology and competing business models.