I recently blogged about the Apple announcement and how it amounted to publishers ceding the “traditional” textbook market (whether print or digital) to OER makers. One way to interpret that concession is as a win for open education. And it is a win – temporarily. Another way to interpret the concession by publishers is to see it as electronics companies ending production of VCRs and doubling down on DVD players.

In my previous post I asked, “If video-based, multimedia-rich, interactive textbooks are only worth $14.99 to the big publishers, what are relatively static, text-based books with a few photos worth to them?” Think about that for a minute. Sure, there are “traditional” OER textbooks available for free. But when you could have video, multimedia, simulations, and interactive assessments for $15, why would you take a traditional book (whether print or video) even if it is free?

Secretary Duncan’s Digital Learning Day challenge that the entire US move away from print to digital curriculum by 2017 may or may not be taken up by every K-12 and post secondary school in the country. But it will be taken up by many of them. How will our beloved OER (90% text, 9% still images, 1% video) compete against what the publishers are turning out then, especially if the prices stay in the teens?

It reminds me of the early days of the web. Back in the early 90s, anyone who could figure out the View Source command could make webpages. And we all did. But in the mid/late 90s when somebody figured out how to use Perl to make Apache talk to MYSQL, the web changed forever. Sure, folks were free to keep making the same old dull, non-interactive websites they always had. But no one did. Ask yourself: Of the websites that you use every day, how many of them have a database on the backend? Answer: Every single one, I bet. Overnight the whole web went the way of the programmer, and the expertise required to meaningfully participate (in the sense of Program or Be Programmed) rose dramatically.

The publishers want to make sure the same thing happens to content.

You have to admit that some of the things the publishers are working on are both cooler and better than almost everything that currently exists in the OER space. Can you name a single OER project that does assessment at all (and I don’t mean PDFs of quizzes)? Can you name one that does diagnostic assessment or handles mastery in any meaningful way? We’ve narrowed the entire field of OER down to CMU OLI, Khan Academy, and possibly Thrun’s new stuff. Now, can you think of one of these three that openly licenses their assessments and the engines they run them on? No.

Open education currently has no response to the coming wave of diagnostic, adaptive products coming from the publishers. To the best of my knowledge there is no one really working on next gen OER – OER that are interactive, simulative, really rich with multimedia AND combined with OAR that drive diagnosis, remediation, and adaptation. There’s certainly no one funding next gen OER. And believe me – if it took $100M to get the field to where it currently stands in terms of relatively static openly licensed content, it will take at least that much investment again over the next decade for the field to do something truly next gen.

Because this stuff costs so much to do, if no one steps up to the funding plate the entire field is at serious risk. Much has been written about 2012 being “the year of OER.” Let’s hope it’s not the year OER peaks. We need brains, energy, and funding on the next gen OER/OAR problem NOW.