Four Digital Publishing Questions for Paul Belfanti

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

edtech education publishing open web accessibility UX digital learningThe Digital Book World Conference + Expo, kicking off on January 13, 2015 is packed with an incredible amount of information and ideas about the digital publishing landscape at a time of remarkable transformations. To help attendees make the most out of those three days, Digital Book World is sitting down with conference speakers to help lay the groundwork for conversations that will take place at the conference and continue for many weeks and months afterward.

This is the sixteenth installment in our “Digital Publishing Questions” blog series, featuring Paul Belfanti, Director of Content Architecture at Pearson.

What do you think has been the most newsworthy event in the past year around publishing and digital change?

From an education/learning company viewpoint I’d say 2014 was the year that the transformation to digital really took hold. There was a major increase in the volume of content published and distributed in true digital formats like HTML5 and EPUB3 (as opposed to PDF), but more important in the long run, content became increasingly conceived of and developed from the perspective of digital-first distribution and with digital content being the core product as opposed to an ancillary component to a printed textbook.

2014 also saw real progress from the EDUPUB Alliance in defining edu-specific profiles of Open Web standards to will enable rich, adaptive and accessible content that is more flexible and interoperable across platforms to enter the education market.

Related: Building Great Experiences Using HTML5

What are you anticipating as the big change we will see in 2015?

I think 2015 will bring many more tangible examples of innovative educational products and services that take advantage of the capabilities of the new digital tool set. These products and services will represent only a portion of the full potential of the new digital paradigms for learning, but I believe they will get people really excited about what’s to come, while more of the critical components related to content creation and enrichment, user data tracking and privacy protection, adaptive learning, personalization and efficacy reporting, etc. are implemented and begin to scale. Correspondingly, there will be continued momentum toward open industry standards to enable interoperability and consistency across a variety of platforms, devices and distribution channels.

What is the most important thing publishers need to accomplish in 2015?

I think that fully completing the conceptual transition to digital is the most important thing educational publishers need to accomplish in 2015. By that I mean we need to move rapidly beyond the “tradigital” model of taking content that was designed and developed for the ink-on-paper paradigm and transferring it to digital formats, to fully embrace the power and possibilities of the digital toolset to design and develop modular, flexible, reusable content–in turn driving products and services that fully and natively leverage these tools to create exceptional end user experiences.

Part of this evolution is realizing that in the digital world the difference between content and software development is practically nonexistent. We need to plan, design, develop and package our content following best practices of software development, and incorporate new roles such as instructional designers, UX and UI specialists into our existing expertise to produce the next generation of learning materials.

Are there any companies (start-up or otherwise) now flying below the radar that you think may break out in 2015?

From my perspective, one of the most exciting and critical areas is the structured authoring space. This is where the power of technology meets the content and pedagogical expertise. In order to derive the greatest value from this intersection, however, we need to shield authors from technology that distracts them from their creative process, while enabling them to enhance their content through user friendly tools and interfaces.

Without naming names, I’ll say that there are a lot of smart, innovative start-ups in this space developing some impressive platforms, and most of them are based on open industry standards that will allow publishers to avoid getting locked into proprietary systems and drive further innovation across the industry.

Paul Belfanti is the Director of Content Architecture at Pearson. He’ll be speaking on a panel at Digital Book World 2015 called “In Publishing’s Multi-Tech Future, Is HTML5 the “Magic Bullet?” considering that question from the perspective of publishers grappling with how to create content for multiple platforms and uses.

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