An interview with George Wells
We asked George, TCS's Head of Content, for his thoughts on publishing ... and seals!?
What was your route into publishing?
My publishing journey started at Heinemann in Johannesburg in a marketing position. It allowed me to travel throughout Southern Africa on a regular basis, and the passion for education I encountered inspired me a great deal. Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Eswatini and Lesotho – amazingly beautiful countries. Spending time with so many teachers (many not having access to a lot of learning material), I wanted to be part of the content creation process, and knew that that would be my next step. After a couple of years teaching in Asia, I joined Pearson in Hong Kong as an editor, and the rest is history, as they say.
Which new trend in education do you find particularly exciting?
We’ve recently started working with a client on video-based collaborative learning. What makes it interesting is that it’s particularly desired in developing countries in Africa and Asia. Learners want guided online learning, accompanied with online tutor sessions with other learners. Increasingly, these learners want content specific to their own context – something so long ignored by traditional publishers.
What was meant to be the big new thing in publishing but never quite took off?
Every now and then there’s a new technology trend — think QR codes, AR, and the like. And while there are some truly innovative products out there, some of these technologies just never really take off. I think part of the issue is that publishing companies aren’t technology companies and technology companies aren’t publishers. At the end of the day, technology is only part of the equation.
What do you think the publishing industry will look like in 10 years time?
To be honest, a lot will be the same. Yes, we’ll still be doing printed textbooks. Many classrooms around the world will still not be digital. But learners in many countries will take more charge of their own education within their own contexts, and with their own goals in mind. Education will become more tailored to individual outcomes and less cookie-cutter. Individuality will become more important so that learners understand why they are learning something.
What advice do you have for anyone who wants to enter a career in educational publishing?
The word ‘passion’ is overused, but you need to care deeply about what you are doing. Accept that you work for a business or even a large conglomerate, but always keep in mind that what you are doing right now has an impact on an individual learner or a teacher somewhere. That also reminds you how important diligence is in our work – that activity/image/direction line you are looking at right now and think is ‘good enough’ – is it? Will the learner doing that activity be confused? Everything matters when you remember who you’re doing it for.
What do you enjoy most about working in educational publishing?
Although it doesn’t always feel like that, it’s a creative industry. And it’s an industry with a wide reach — we are actively influencing the evolution of education. Education made all the difference in my life, and knowing that, even if I can make that change for one other learner, it’s totally worth it.
Conversely, what are the most challenging aspects of working in publishing?
Deadlines. We always want to do better and we don’t have infinite time. Also, as we are moving toward creating content suitable to individual contexts, it becomes more challenging to create content suitable for a global audience. We need to find a way to deliver contextualised content to learners in a feasible way, and that will require some out-of-the box thinking.
What does leadership mean to you?
Knowing that you’re not the smartest person in the room. Letting people shine at what they’re best at, and supporting them where they need it. And rewarding and encouraging initiative and dedication.
What are you proudest of at The Content Station?
Our team. The daily dedication and commitment and passion (there’s that word again!) is inspiring. To have been able to put together a team of such smart (and funny!) people, based all over the globe, and getting to deliver on such a variety of different publishing projects, is very rewarding.
If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
My favourite food in the world is probably xiao long bao, a Chinese pork dumpling with a delicious broth inside. I’ve made it “successfully” once – a total fluke, and failed numerous times ever since. Please send help.
Where is the best place you’ve travelled to and why?
I once visited Cape Cross on the Namibian coast with a seal population estimated at about 100,000. Despite the smell (spoiler alert), one of the most different and special experiences I’ve ever encountered. Namibia is a country worth exploring – it’s breathtaking.
Tell us a secret.
Seals are much scarier and bigger in person.
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