Most of us who pursued careers in publishing did so because reading, in some way, impacted us as kids. But kids today live in a vastly changed world, and tablets have now taken over. One in four adults owns a tablet. On Christmas Day this year, 51% of mobile activations were for tablets, not phones. As publishing migrates from print to pixels, and reading more directly competes with games, phones, and tablets for attention, we need to ask how those pixels might impact the futures of today’s kids the way print did for us.
Despite a long career fueled by digital evolution, and ownership of multiple eReaders, mobile phones, and tablets along the way, I almost exclusively purchase print books for my kids. I love to watch them revisit titles and leave half-read books lying around the house. And so my kids do little, if any, meaningful onscreen reading. Yet I can’t help but see the special allure tablets hold for my kids, and to consider how to make use of the power of these devices to engage and inspire.
Technology took each of my daughters from ABCs to a second-grade reading level when they were four years old, opening a world of knowledge so vast and empowering that I find myself telling every preschool parent I meet. (Tip: Check out MimioSprout!) And now, thanks to tablet technology, my three-year-old boys are just an app away from delightful interactions that develop important preschool skills: colors, numbers, shapes, and so much more.
But it’s harder to justify extended iPad time for my eight-year-old. There are games—faves include Plants vs. Zombies and Stunt Bugs—and “maker” apps like Cookie and Tie Dye Doodle to entertain and delight, but very little to challenge her. She plays Oregon Settler (which takes me back to my days as a third-grade teacher when it was Oregon Trail) and Stack the States to memorize state capitals. But tablets—with their capacity to personalize, to scaffold and level, and to deliver immediate feedback—can go beyond entertainment and interactive reference. They can be true learning game changers.
That’s where publishers come in. As books and magazines find their place in the digital revolution, we have the opportunity to reach children with an entirely new kind of content. We can take all that is great about games, good teaching, and behavioral cues to deliver experiences that foster true learning along with a sense of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. We can revolutionize learning.
Educational publishers are poised to take this on. After all, they understand grade levels, Common Core, and the importance of instructional design—not to mention, they’re smack-dab in the middle of the sea change happening with technology in schools. But kids need and want more from their tablet experiences. They need input from folks who understand brain development, learning, and behavior, who come from science, as well as commercial design, messaging, and engagement, who come courtesy of the game labs and digital agencies.
What if we could bring all that knowledge to bear with purpose? The explosive penetration of tablets ensures that content will be delivered both widely and seamlessly. But it’s up to all of us—the publishers, the domain experts, and the curators—to decide if that content will provide something of lasting value.
After a long career in digital publishing, I founded a company whose goal is to help make this kind of game-changing content for kids. We are called Outthink Inc., and right now we’re running a Kickstarter campaign to prove that parents want innovative educational products for their kids. If you agree, please join us!