Learning has no doubt become more digital. Students enjoy having access to their course materials and grades through learning management systems, and professors increasingly make use of online resources to enhance and limber up the learning experience.
Digital textbooks, on the other hand, have not received the same warm welcome from college campuses. A recent survey by Bowker Market Research revealed that within the past academic year, fewer than 5% of students primarily used digital textbooks in conjunction with their courses. Many students said they prefer the tactile experience that comes with physical textbooks, some said they like to write in and highlight the pages of their books, and others benefit from the ability to re-sell their books at the end of the semester.
The Bowker study also showed that professors were concerned with the price of materials for their students. This information aligns with faculty insight we have gathered. 87% of faculty in our survey stated that they considered the cost to student when selecting course materials. At this juncture, digital textbooks may be cost-inhibitive, and some professors do not see any added benefits to going digital.
Through adaptive learning, however, colleges are discovering quantifiable benefits to going digital. Adaptive learning tools such as those offered by Pearson and Knewton allow students to work at their own pace and to use their texts online while engaging more intuitively with course content, their instructor and their peers. Adaptive learning technology has already helped Arizona State University increase its math readiness rate from 64% to 75%.
Of those students using digital textbooks, 51% access them on a laptop computer, as opposed to an iPad or Android tablet. eTextbook platforms such as NOOK Study from Barnes & Noble cater to the majority of these students by offering access to Microsoft Windows and Apple OS X users.
With regard to creating and pushing digital textbooks, publishers are still dipping their toes in the water. Currently, roughly two percent of textbooks sold at college bookstores are digital titles. Carl Kulo, the U.S. director of Bowker Market Research, predicts that publishers will have to dive in if they wish to see any significant increase in digital textbook usage in the near future.
“Inertia is an inhibitor to rapid change in this market,” Kulo said. “We believe that it’s the publishers and other educational technology companies that will drive the shift to digital.”
Incidentally, market forces may end up being the most influential driver in the shift toward digital textbooks. Cengage Learning Inc., a prominent publisher within the realm of education, has recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in order to alleviate its $5.8 billion debt load.
Machael E. Hansen, the chief executive officer of Apax Partners LLP, Cengage’s parent company, sees this as an opportunity to adapt, rather than as a sign of imminent extinction.
“I don’t believe the print textbook is dying or dead,” he said. “It will have a rightful place in the market. But it is pretty clear that the growth has to be on the digital side.”