By Bryan Mims
Bill Goodwyn is disruptive in the classroom and proud of it. He’s built a business model on upsetting an American school tradition observed since kids first cracked open The New England Primer in 1690. “We look at ourselves like a disruptor, the same way that a Netflix is trying to disrupt traditional TV or the same way Uber is coming in to disrupt traditional taxis,” he says.
Discovery Education employs about 300, mostly former teachers, principals, superintendents and other educators, at its Charlotte headquarters. Its educational software is used in half of all U.S. classrooms and in more than 50 countries. In North Carolina, Discovery’s media services are used by three-fourths of the state’s school districts, including 57 that use its Techbook, a digital textbook.
Goodwyn is working to get textbooks — the kind made from pulpwood and bound in covers — out of the classroom. No more writing your name, teacher’s name or school year on the inside front cover. No more stuffing a book bag with books. The division of Discovery Communications, which had 2015 revenue of $6.4 billion, has brought textbooks to the screen.
“If you think about how kids are growing up now and using technology and media, you know they’re wired totally different than how we grew up,” he says. “They’re consuming media fundamentally different than any previous generation. So the premise is: How can we make kids more excited and engaged about learning?”
Goodwyn joined Discovery in 1987. After more than 12 years in Washington, D.C., he opened an office in Charlotte in 2000. He became president of Discovery Education in 2007, and later was named CEO. His division launched the Techbook, which features video clips, hands-on activities and virtual labs. The technology works with any laptop or tablet. Books cost from $38 to $55 per student, based on grade level and subject. By comparison, a traditional textbook can run more than $70, according to the Association of American Publishers. U.S. textbook sales total $14 billion annually, while the grade-school ed-tech software market has annual sales of about $8 billion.
Asked about the profitability of digital books, Goodwyn dodges. “Our focus is not to make money, it’s to improve teaching and learning. And if we do that and improve student outcomes, then we’ll be successful financially.” Discovery’s education unit makes up less than 3% of the company’s sales, or $173 million last year.
While Goodwyn doesn’t think print textbooks will be obsolete anytime soon, there’s a big shift. “Three or four years ago, you’d have districts asking, ‘Should I go digital?’ Now they’re asking, ‘How do I go digital?’”
Name: Bill Goodwyn
Work: A 27-year veteran of Discovery Communications, owner of such television networks as Animal Planet, Goodwyn is CEO of Discovery’s billion-dollar-plus domestic content distribution business and Discovery Education.
Hometown: Rocky Mount
Education: B.A., journalism, UNC Chapel Hill
Family: Wife and two children
Recognized: By STEMConnector this year as one of the country’s top 100 CEOS in science, technology, engineering and math.