For many, the difference between a paper textbook and an e-textbook is not all that great. The costs are similar, the way higher education uses them are similar, and the capabilities are quite alike. Cue to 2013, where embedded technologies that make interactivity and learning a reality are finally hitting digital shelves.

With incredible advances in technology, it’s curious that so few companies have worked to create stand-out textbook-based software for college students. Until recently, digital textbooks have been, in large part, re-creations of paper books with limited search and quiz capabilities. That’s definitely changing as many e-textbook publishers are changing the way we think about digital studying and learning. Companies want to create “[more] than just flat scans of the original material,” as co-founder of Inkling Matt MacInnis says. Digital textbook software creators and publishers of the future are seeking to provide better searchability, accessibility, and interactivity.

Gutenberg Technology is working hard on MyEbookFactory, an e-textbook publishing platform with InDesign and MOOC-like enhancements. Meanwhile, McGraw-Hill is pushing to rethink how we publish specific content in the first place. Rather than waiting for test grades to come back, digital textbooks can immediately redirect students who don’t understand various concepts to a module with more details and problem sets.

Many companies are working on digital textbook innovations:  Software company Kno offers incredible interaction with trackable learning engagement, notes from professors right on the e-text, and much more. Interestingly, Pearson education is thinking from the other side of the spectrum, soon releasing “audited learning outcomes” that might help measure the impact of various e-textbook components. Though there are still challenges in the realm of e-textbooks, innovators and educators are hard at work to help assist how we study and learn. We can’t wait to see where digital textbooks head next.