First Food Courts, Next Academic Content Franchises

My conservative prediction is that within five years we will see examples of not-for-profit private colleges turning into franchises for textbook publishers such as Pearson or Cengage.  The relationship will be similar to the one colleges now have with their food service vendors.

The academic content and platform industries (textbook publishing on the one side and products like BlackBoard and TaskStream) will soon converge.  They companies that brought us the mediocrity by turning text books into Time magazine look-alikes and the companies that turn teachers into data entry clerks know a gold mine when they see one.  Students are already accessing all manner of internet content as a part of their education – why not figure out how to package the lot of it and license it to colleges and universities who will market it to students for you? 

There are almost too many contemporary trends supporting this convergence to keep count.  

The play being made by textbook companies has long been facilitated by faculty members who over-rely on textbooks (either because they are over-worked teaching 5 courses a semester or because they’d rather do their research than teach or because they are burned out).

A lot of investment in educational technology is motivated by the dream of allowing administrators to manage education centrally. As often as not there is a direct tradeoff: centralized information and control equals more clerical work for faculty and increased attractiveness of out-of-a-box teaching.

Meanwhile, the push for competency-based education that “emphasizes assessment rather than instruction” further dupes us into believing in “full digital learning experiences” as the El Dorado of higher education.

One could continue with what accreditation agencies and state and federal education departments and major educational philanthropies are up to, but you get the picture. 

This from most recent issue of Chronicle of Higher Education:


Author: Dan Ryan

I'm currently an Academic Program Director at I've been a professor at University of Toronto, University of Southern California, and Mills College teaching things like human centered design, computational thinking, modeling for policy sciences, and social theory. I'm driven by the desire to figure out how to teach twice as many twice as well twice as easily.

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