The context

What is the state of the art in Italy?

If until now the textbook has not been replaced – if not in small part – by other more innovative teaching tools, in recent years the first signs of an important change are being perceived, determined by the increasing diffusion of new technologies in every sphere of daily life and the gradual introduction of digital tools in teaching.

A strong impetus to this renewal has arrived with the law from August 6, 2008, n. 133, Article 15 which obliges for teachers, starting from school year 2011-2012, to adopt only “the books exploitable in the on-line versions and downloadable from the Internet, or mixed.”

This legislative imposition has suddenly accelerated the introduction of the technology in the world of teaching, with the primary focus at all those who have to deal with the textbook, students and their families, teachers, publishers.

The evolution of the offer: new products for school

The school publishers are now at the forefront in implementing a reform that requires a radical review of the textbook and its entire lifecycle, from design to production, from promotion to sales.

We try to understand how publishers are facing this time of transition, and specifically those publishing houses that currently divide the majority (over 65%) of the italian school market: Zanichelli, Pearson Italia, Mondadori Education and De Agostini Scuola.

What are the new products to accompany the affirmation of the digital school in Italy and, perhaps, to replace the classic textbook?

The mixed books

In this first phase, the efforts of publishers are focused mainly on the so-called mixed editions – in circulation, even if in a limited way since the 2009-2010 school year – which contain the paper volumes generally slim accompanied by digital on-line and off-line expansions: they are mostly detailed text in pdf files, audio and video, interactive animation, self-correcting exercises and other learning objects accessible either independently or upon registration on the websites with a password enclosed inside of a textbook or provided by the teacher. Each publisher independently choose how to differentiate their offer of mixed books, giving rise to specific initiatives.

The e-book for school

In addition to books mixed, the Italian law 133/2008 also provides for school books in “on-line version that can be downloaded from the Internet”

Up to now the only online platform in Italy which sales e-books is Scuolabook School, a project carried out by the company Hoplo (Hoplo is a computer services company that provides innovative technological support to publishers.)

The Scuolabook portal distributes twenty-four publishing brands belonging to almost all the major school publishers, from Zanichelli to Pearson Italia, from De Agostini to Rcs with thousands of titles for the secondary school of first and second degree, and is still continuing  to grow. Electronic books are all equivalent to their paper versions and can be downloaded to your computer and other digital media such as iPad, saving for buyers 35-40% compared to the paper version. For the moment, sales have not yet reached large numbers – 20, 30 purchases a day – but it is easy to predict the increase of demand due to spread of e-readers and to the publicity of the site among the teachers.

Not only books

The world of digital content is still little explored and publishers, at the present stage, are testing different solutions. Their task is in fact “innovate, anticipate customer needs and provide ideas that meet even the unexpressed needs of the teachers’

The view of the new proposals for education expands to include Internet sites dedicated to teaching, online magazines, apps for mobile phones and actual virtual platforms, where teachers and students can interact. In addition, the diffusion of interactive whiteboard (IWB) in many italian classes, thanks to the experiments promoted in recent years by the Ministry of Education, is an opportunity for publishers to expand their offerings, offering pre-packaged content for the teachers using these new teaching tools.

The learning platforms

Another “hot” topic, which is likely to cause major developments in the medium term is that of the Learning Management System which deals with the platforms that enable the delivery of online courses, but are also responsible for monitoring the activities carried out by the users, statistical analysis of data and content management. This system is already used by 17 million students all over the world with significant benefits on teaching. Indeed, it is proved that the e-learning platforms help students to improve their performance, help the underachieving  students to catch up and support teachers in classroom management, with great benefits in terms of time and efficiency

The potential of digital publishing is still little explored, as well as models of profitability. Therefore there is expected a phase with multiple experiments, both for the economic and publishing aspects, since there are new frontiers of hypertextual and non-linear writing.