Headlines from the bumpy past year in educational software
To say that the last year has been a turbulent one for the world of educational software is a pretty safe understatement. The consolidation of many publishers that started in late 1998 has continued to change companies, and the well known dot.com fallout has spread into the education world. Here's a synopsis of key events in the past year.
THE LEARNING COMPANY IS SOLD (AGAIN)
The year's biggest news was from The Learning Company, which had become a huge corporate mess of 1,500 employees and 500 often competing brands. Last fall, Mattel sold the company at a huge loss to the Gores Technology Group, a company known for its corporate reorganization abilities. However, Gores is not known for its dedication to education, so the jury is out on what will happen to some of educators all time favorite products including Orly's Draw-A-Story, Carmen Sandiego, The Living Books, Print Shop and The Oregon Trail. That's not to say these products are dead--take the recently released Kid Pix 3 for example. But it will take some time for all the dust to settle.
MADE IN THE USA? NOT LIKELY
This past year has seen several significant investments in U.S. multimedia publishing companies by overseas companies. Nearly all of Edmark was sold by IBM to the Irish company Riverdeep. Dorling Kindersley Interactive, which has had a significant presence in the U.S., was purchased by Pearson, the large British media conglomerate. DK's new name will be the mouthful Penguin UK/Dorling Kindersley Digital Media Division. Knowledge Adventure's parent company, Havas Interactive, was acquired by Vivendi, a publicly owned utilities and communications company, and Hasbro Interactive was acquired by the French videogame publisher Infogrames, which already owns Humongous (Putt-Putt, Junior Sports, Freddi,Fish, Pajama Sam, Blues Clues).
THE HARDWARE ROLLERCOASTER
Every day that passes, software and hardware take on new, interesting forms. While the traditional iMac or PC remains the vehicle of choice for delivering interactive electronic content, we're now starting to see an influx of content delivered over local networks to wireless devices and smart toys such as LeapFrog's LeapPad. The most significant trend to note is the decrease in new CD-ROM-based titles for Mac and Windows computers in the past five years.
But the death of the CD-ROM has been greatly exaggerated. Despite the continued push to wire schools in the past year, CD-ROMs are still being purchased, according to conversations with publishers like Sunburst and Tom Snyder Productions. While both companies have developed subscription-based Internet products, both still make most of their income from traditional CD-ROMs and support materials like Math Arena or Tessellation Exploration.
WEB-BASED SERVICES LEARN A TOUGH LESSON
Just one year ago, Internet-based companies like wwwrrr, iMind, Compass Learning, Netschools, Classroom Connect, the Learning Network and BigChalk were the main buzz at FETC and NECC. If you listened to the pitches, a teacher would think that you could simply sign up to a service and all your technology problems where solved. But in last year, reality hit several of these companies, resulting in some drastic cutbacks and revised claims. Enthusiastic Web publishers and investors forgot that schools change extremely slowly, and that the majority of U.S. classrooms simply don't have the reliable Internet backbone needed to support Web delivered content. Clearly this is an area that will see more change in the next year.
As quickly as this field has changed in the past 12 months, there is a sense that the rumbling hasn't stopped yet. More consolidation, more dot.com fallout and K-12's slow reaction to the new technology will likely continue to be big stories throughout the next school year.
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