Accumulating Evidence of the Value of Collection-Based Services

By | July 16, 2014

In a June 12 post I described the digital gold rush in occupational education and services. The evidence continues to accumulate that the most promising approaches are built on:

  1. Curated digital collections
  2. Online communities of learning and practice; and
  3. Incorporating adaptive-learning or search-and-recommend technologies.

Traditional information services companies and publishers are leading many of these ventures. For example, UpToDate, described in an another earlier post, is part of Wolters Kluwer and Elsevier has partnered with the adaptive learning company, Knewton, to build “products” for nursing, health professions and medical students in the coming years.

While experience in information services and publishing may be useful, the revolution in digital publishing (think of user-generated content on YouTube, Facebook, or LinkedIn) means that universities, companies, and individuals can produce and deliver digital content at low cost. The Veritas offering in veterinary medicine from Cornell, Texas A&M, and Pfizer illustrates this nicely, as does the fact that the venerable Merck Manual (a diagnosis and therapy “collection” for health care professionals, the first edition of which was printed in 1899 and the 19th edition printed in 2011) is available online.

The promise of these approaches comes from the fact that thousands of faculty members (content experts) worldwide teach almost any topic you can think of, from big data analytics to construction management to managerial accounting. In theory the simple sum of lectures, resource materials, problem-sets, and quizzes that these individuals create in their day-to-day work could be a useful collection. Indeed, YouTube, Google, and collections like iTunes U mean that many of these materials are already accessible as part of unstructured and un-curated collections.

It is entirely a different matter, however, to create, maintain, and make accessible a curated collection for professional and educational uses. Enterprises such as those named above, and including enterprises such as the Khan Academy or Lynda.com, are pioneering these approaches. While we can be certain that services and communities built on curated collections will disrupt education and publishing, there are certain to be plenty of failures.

More on what seem to be the recipes for failure and success in another post.