Edu-tainment as You Know It Is Dead
Edu-tainment was initially envisioned to be the perfect hybrid between education and entertainment. In the abstract, the idea that educational software could be equally effective and engaging remains a good one. Most edu-tainment companies, however, got the mixture wrong and thus never fully realized this promise. This is because of the natural tension / difficulty that exists in trying to serve both parts of the hybrid well.
The products that rarely caught on were hardly entertaining and somewhat educational. The ones that got traction were decently entertaining but barely educational. Initially, parents felt good about the edu-speak they were hearing and seeing in an entertaining product. But as time went on, parents got wise to the fact that these same products had defaulted to a basic model of practice-based lessons, rather than differentiating themselves with real instruction that leads to effective learning. Consequently, parents and children didn’t know what to make of edu-tainment software, so they started to lump it together with pure entertainment software, to which edu-tainment didn’t hold a candle.
Edu-tainment is Subsumed into Entertainment
Caught in the sloppy middle, edu-tainment companies either died or began to refocus their efforts toward more entertainment and even less education (if at all) under the theory that twitchy eye candy makes for an easier attractant. One only has to look at recent strategic shifts in products and corresponding messaging from the likes of JumpStart World to see this. This means that edu-tainment, like analog, is dead, but not before leaving behind a noisy marketplace full of confusion, an underserved generation of customers, and misleading promises (e.g., please don’t get me started on how the words “individualized” and “adapted” have been debased!).
Individualized eLearning is Born
It has also left a white space of opportunity. In addition to timing (for more on this, please see my blog on “DreamBox: eLearning Comes Home”), the promising news is that the current, web-savvier generation of parents still wants effective educational products that are engaging. Thankfully, they are also starting to see the beginnings of a better-segmented marketplace on the web, the results of which I believe are starting to shakeout as follows.
- Edu-tainment will be engulfed by Web-based Entertainment;
- eLearning will be replaced with the more potent Individualized eLearning;
- Virtual Schools will grow to serve students that otherwise lack access;
- eTutoring will dwindle over time as Individualized eLearning and Virtual Schools render them unnecessary;
- eTextbooks will creep forward incrementally as the digital textbook counterpart to the entrenched paper version of itself.