• David Morrison

All passengers fasten your seatbelts, please; or didn't educational publishing use to be "easier"?

Updated: May 27, 2021

Increasingly, as educational publishers, we are expected to be Jacks-and-Jills-of-all-trades and, whilst we appreciate that education best practice has driven this need, sometimes, just sometimes, wouldn't it be nice to go back to "easier" days?


An exciting morning


Young Mary is excited.


She gets dressed at the first asking, packs her bag and wolfs down her breakfast.


A family member drives her to where she needs to be.


Mary gives this person a kiss on the cheek, jumps out of the car and enters the hubbub of a large, impersonal building, full of people she doesn't know who seem to move as if subject to an never-ending set of unfathomable rules.


Eventually, Mary joins the queue indicated by a door number she's been given.


She gets to the head of this queue and enters into the purposely-built enclosed space where she's going to spend the next seven hours.


A serious man she's never met shows her to her seat, tells her to take out what she needs from her bag then stores the bag in a locker.

Someone Mary doesn’t know sits next to her.


Reluctantly, Mary mumbles hello to this person whilst realizing that her only chance of moving around for the foreseeable future will be if she goes to the toilet.


Of course, the rest of the service Mary'll receive (including the quality of any meals) will depend on how much her parents have been paid for her to be there; even she knows that.


Speaking to no one in particular, a voice rattles off instructions Mary doesn't really understand.


With any luck, she thinks, soon the screen in front of her will be switched on and there'll be something interesting to watch.

Failing that, there's always that reading material they normally provide, what's it called again? That's it: "the in-flight magazine."


Mary hopes against hope somebody or other's bothered to put some thought into it.


Enough with the analogy already!


Okay, okay ...


But, to a child like Mary, might flying alone for the first time and the first day at a new school really feel so dissimilar?


Whatever the answer, the analogy's useful because it serves as a reminder that for so long for many educational publishing staff, the aim of our job was:

  • “merely” to produce in-flight magazines (i.e., textbooks (books full of texts));

  • to make these magazines as amenable and stimulating as possible for the sake of everyone locked into the strange and wonderful journey that is education;

  • to work with writers who were often too ambitious or not ambitious enough;

  • to meet spine-chilling deadlines (not much change there, then ...).

And therein ended our remit.


And so often, the result (through no fault of our own, or of anyone else, really) were publications which:

  • were never really up-to-date;

  • that avoided any controversial topics;

  • that relied on what was in fashion;

  • that contained content that jumped around from one topic to another and whose focus rarely had anything to do with a reader's experience;

  • kind of did read like in-flight magazines, then ...


"Thank goodness that's changed," I hear you say!


Maybe, but that's not to say our job as educational publishers has become any easier.

Increasingly, educational publishing company staff are expected to generate proposals that go beyond merely meeting deadlines and agreed specifications for yet another “in-flight magazine.”


Rather, in the current climate of near supersonic-speed change, we are expected to understand how an educational network works as a whole.


And this means that:

  • we're expected to come up with and bring to life integrated, multi-platform educational solutions which require us to find out about, analyse and synthesise current educational theory, legislation and technology;

  • we're expected to understand what a huge range of stakeholders need (to return to our analogy: pilots, co-pilots, air traffic controllers, baggage handlers, and so on), as well as to second guess what children like Mary might really need;

  • we're expected to foment change in order to sustain current revenue flows and initiate others.

All very exciting and challenging, of course; so hey, no moaning: it's better than just churning out in-flight magazines, right?


Again: maybe. Some things don't change and all over the world, people young and old are still sitting on cramped seats in enclosed spaces dedicated to offering an "educational experience," flicking through digital "pages" hoping to find something that grabs and holds their attention.


So, in that respect, the skills we've always used as educational publishers to get that “something” before their eyes are as valuable ever.


It's just that, nowadays, we need to have added a smattering of User Experience knowledge, a smidgeon of Design Thinking theory and a sprinkling of Neuroducational principles, to make sure we're on the right flight path.


Have a good trip!


By David Morrison


Bio: David is a very occasional flyer, an even more occasional blog writer and an incorregible fan of tendentious analogies. His job at You First Education is to help our clients enjoy both their journey and their arrival at destination, wherever that may be.