Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH): A Case of Elearning Evolution

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Tablet application on tablet.After acquiring Harcourt Publishing in 2007, Houghton Mifflin Co. became Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), an educational and trade publisher. The Lord of the Rings series as well as the American Heritage Dictionaries are just a few of the company's well-known products. One of HMH's most popular characters with young readers, Curious George, may soon be outshone by its newest offering -- textbooks in the form of apps.

(www.hmhco.com)

Business Challenge
Tablet devices have become increasingly popular with both adults and children, with about 15 million iPads sold in 2010 and Kindle being Amazon.com, Inc.'s top-selling product. When ebooks began to boom and etextbooks hit the market, HMH didn't want to get left behind its competitors. In May 2010, HMH began to conceptualize its first etextbook project. It needed to figure out a way to appropriately and effectively present traditional paperback textbooks in digital app form so that they would engage users.

Vendor of Choice: ScrollMotion, Inc.
Started in 2008 by co-founders Josh Koppel and John Lema, ScrollMotion, Inc. is a platform company that develops branded apps and builds platforms that allow companies to publish content in interactive ways on the iPhone, iPad, and other devices. Its customers include media giants Hearst Communications, Inc.; Condé Nast; and Disney.

(www.scrollmotion.com)


The Problem In Depth
When HMH began to develop plans for its first etextbook project in May 2010, it had no prior model to work off of. The company needed to find a vendor that could work with it to find the right way to approach this new model.

"We were looking for a vendor that had a good deal of experience in mobile device application development, a forward looking vision, and willingness to work with us to consider the possibilities in terms of redefining curriculum appropriately for this emerging medium," says Bethlam Forsa, EVP of global products and content development for the education group at HMH.

With so much potential for interactive capabilities on the iPad, HMH considered it crucial to include student assessments, immediate remediation, and teacher reporting within the functionality of the app. "We also wanted to appropriately aggregate all the rich media assets from multiple locations into a single application for ease of access for the student," says Forsa.

ScrollMotion had the tools and track record to develop the kind of highly interactive application that HMH was looking to produce. "We had already launched a textbook product for Kaplan," says Koppel. "We had more experience than any other company in the entire space."
According to Koppel, one of the largest components of creating an etextbook is converting the existing content. The challenge is figuring out how to take data from a book that was laid out 10 years ago and turn it into something active and engaging. The process is not only complicated but time-consuming and expensive as well.

"For a product like this, which is so intensive, every piece of content is essentially reinvented to become interactive," says Koppel. "From things like taking an example and making it active to adding in video and doing an index. All of these things were sort of a combination of-what can we do to make this great?"

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