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Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Interview with Mickey Levitan, Courseload: Innovators in E-Learning Series

Delivering course materials is being accomplished in innovative ways. Welcome to an interview with Mickey Levitan, co-founder and CEO of Courseload, an aggregator and distributor of digital textbooks and course materials. 

Screen Capture #1: Courseload

1.  What is your name and your relation to e-learning?
 Mickey Levitan, Co-Founder/CEO of Courseload. We are a device-and content source-neutral aggregator and distributer of digital textbooks and course materials.  The Courseload model and and platform address the major impediments that have slowed the transition from print to digital course materials in higher education, helping colleges and universities to lower the cost of education and leverage tools that contribute to better educational outcomes.

2.  What is Courseload?  How does it work?
Courseload is an end-to-end solution that enables schools to harness the benefits of digital course materials.  It is software platform that works in conjunction with a school's Learning Management System (LMS), aggregating requested content, distributing the content to students based on classes they have selected and providing a set of tools for highlighting, annotating, collaborating, searching and evaluating that can be used across content from multiple sources. It also handles interfaces with publishers and school systems.

3.  What do you think are some of the core issues facing e-learners and e-learning organizations today?
Not unlike the issues faced by the music and film industries a decade ago, the education industry is currently constrained by measures put in place by publishers to constrain piracy – measures that impede adoption and diminish user satisfaction. Courseload’s approach was conceived to overcome these major impediments that are inherent with all digital content.  The approach is designed for schools that can charge students for their course materials along with tuition, thereby eliminating the economic incentive for illegal copying.  If all students have already purchased the content, who needs to steal it?

This approach changes the economics for publishers who lose revenues to the used book market and piracy and then react by raising prices on new texts. With 100% sell-through guaranteed and illegal copying eliminated, publishers can lower prices dramatically and improve their own profitability. They can also eliminate the cumbersome restrictions on copying, printing, offline access, number of devices, or length of access that historically have made digital content less attractive to end users.

By creating conditions in which eTexts can be more widely used, schools can harness the teaching and learning advantages that come with broader application of digital tools and richer course content.  By creating a platform that can aggregate and distribute content from all sources – proprietary, open source, self-generated, audio and video – academic institutions can take advantage of the growing choices the digital world provides.

Screen Capture #2:  Courseload

4.  What are some of the "disruptive technologies" that will continue to impact elearning in the next few years?
 Successful and disruptive platforms in Courseload's space will:
•    Show demonstrable contribution to improved learning outcomes
•    Enable learners and instructors to collaborate outside the traditional classroom molds
•    Accommodate a variety of teaching and learning styles
•    Leverage technology to provide insight into how students are learning and how instructors can help them succeed.
•    Can consume a variety of content types and formats - both text-based and interactive multimedia – so that users have a common experience with a single set of tools to perform basic functions. These platforms will need to consume proprietary, open-source, and self-generated content
•    Help control escalating cost of education

5.  What are some of the new digital platforms for course texts?

The focus among newer platforms is on "self-publishing".  As self-published texts proliferate, it will be interesting to track what new models emerge to ensure the kind of rigorous editing & review process that has been the hallmark of proprietary content. Some of the newer platforms include: Apple iBooks2, Thuze and Inkling. The Flagship Flock includes Courseload, CourseSmart, VitalSource, Kno and Nookstudy.  A major distinction between platforms is whether they are designed to go direct to consumer or for institutional partnership.  The latter offers potential advantages on cost, collaboration and analytics.

6.  Is it necessary for students to be connected to the internet in order to access the textbooks via courseload? How do you deal with the issues of bandwidth and people who do not necessarily have universal and persistent access?
Courseload is a cloud-based SaaS platform that is content source, device-, and LMS-agnostic. It can be accessed both on and offline. The Courseload platform does not have bandwidth issues in and of itself as it is a cloud-based, light weight platform that does not consume much bandwidth. Where access or bandwidth issues arise, Courseload has an offline capability. Thus far, we have not encountered bandwidth issues with schools using our platform. In schools where all students do no have access to a computing device, the potential cost savings of $600/year with digital provides ways, through financial aid, to justify the up front purchase of a capable device.

7. Are there contingency plans for individuals who are using a smartphone for access and whose provider has blocked or slowed access? How do we keep from creating "bandwidth hogs" when we insist that everything be streamed / accessed from the Cloud? How can we overcome the problem?
Courseload's contingency plan for access is our offline capability. Once the user logs in to the online version of the Courseload platform, the Courseload application can be quickly downloaded to the user's personal device. All digital content associated with the user's courses is then also available without being tethered to the internet.  Courseload has not encountered bandwidth issues because our platform is very light weight in terms of the bandwidth required.

8.  What do you see as high-growth areas in terms of textbooks / course content / course materials?
We expect the growth to come in three areas:
1.    Applications that support school priorities and preferences, e.g. content-source, device, and system agnostic; offer capabilities that truly make a difference in cost and educational outcomes
2.    Publishing tools that make it easier to create, harness and adapt digital courseware (interactive, multi-media, adaptive, self-paced, assessment, analytics, etc.) that will supplant traditional textbooks
3.    Platforms that provide a common set of digital tools that can be used across content from all sources across all courses and that are built to integrate with the veritable explosion of offerings and applications

9. What would you like to see happen in the near future?
One of the potential benefits of moving from digital to print is to lower supply chain costs.  There is a potential win-win for content developers and content users if there is a fair and equitable redistribution of the available economic rents. If this happens quickly, it will accelerate the transition to digital.

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