Updated: Feb 2
How can a publishing house with a 150-year-long history and focus on textbooks adapt to the rapidly
changing environment of the 21 st century and stay ahead of the game in education? Enrico Poli has
an answer, and we are happy to share his story here at Educatefor.life.
When Italian Ministry of Education started pushing for digitalizing of the educational materials, Enrico’s task was to set up and lead a department within Zanichelli Editore responsible for design and development of digital products parallel with publishing of the traditional textbooks. Put differently, there was a need to come up with innovative solutions within the constrains of the core business model, which resulted in the creation of new products like interactive platforms for schools, multimedia content for teachers and more. And that was just the beginning. Now Zanichelli Editore runs its own Investment department – Zanichelli Venture – directed by Enrico Poli, and the plan is to invest 5 million euro in 5 years in the most promising early stage startups within Edtech.
Being a computer science engineer, Enrico has worked in the publishing sector for about 10 years – first producing science books for kids and then textbooks for middle and high school. So the merge of science, communication and education with technology has long been at heart of Enrico’s work, and today is no exception. Like many of us here at Educatefor.life, Enrico cares about how people in various age groups learn and how they are taught, what are the best ways to tackle complex information and how technology can facilitate teaching and learning without creating obstacles on the way. In his new position, Enrico is researching the Edtech startup sector with a purpose of finding and supporting the initiatives which have the potential of benefitting millions of learners both inside and outside of Italy. He views it as part of “the global work” aimed to address the challenges requiring that people all over the world unite their forces if humanity is to succeed in the future, and education is “one of the critical grounds where we will be making a difference”.
Despite that Zanichelli Ventures is mainly focused on Edtech, technology as such does not necessarily have to be part of all innovative solutions deserving the company’s attention. Obviously, technology is an enabler of innovation, but “education does not need to involve tech at any cost”, “the point is that is has to be a scalable, repeatable, self-sustaining idea with an innovating impact on education”.
While it may seem strange to some, that a publishing house takes innovation so seriously, Zanichelli Editore “has always been interested to be an innovative force in the Italian Society”. To illustrate, they were the first to publish the Italian edition of Darvin’s Origin of Species in the 19 th century, some decades later they published Einstein, then in the 1990s they were among the first to make digital versions of textbooks and dictionaries, so it has been in Zanichelli’s DNA for a long time. Now, while being perfectly aware of the fact that the ways people learn is changing, Zanichelli’s policy is twofold: trying to find balance between innovation and what teachers and students need and use at the moment, and then also looking a bit further, 10-15 years ahead, which is Enrico’s job. In his opinion, this will help Zanichelli “to play an important role in the future of Italy and maybe also Europe”.
Enrico believes that in the foreseeable future we still will need “human teachers”, as AI and robotics do not seem to be able to replicate the soft skills which make a huge difference to any human. And when it comes to textbooks, he says that, as we still will need to learn in the future, there will have to be “some kind of a medium to bring the ideas from one generation to another and consolidate them”, so “publishers, librarians and book lovers in general have an important task to understand what is important here and in this ecosystem and make sure that we can bring it to the future – change it, evolve it if necessary and bring it to the new media”. So, a textbook of the future will be “something very exciting, better than a book”.
Enrico regularly shares his views on edtech-related matters on Twitter – take a look at https://twitter.com/enrico_poli if you have similar interests.
We are very pleased to welcome Enrico to Educatefor.life and hope that he will find some inspiration
during the Sprint.