Digital Vs. Print Textbooks
With seven in ten undergraduate students citing high costs as reason not to purchase one or more of their required academic texts, it is clear that exorbitant textbooks are a serious educational constraint. The digital textbook, boasting new features and benefits, has emerged as a leading solution. In 2010, digital sales only accounted for about 1% of academic textbook sales. By 2014, this is expected to grow to a whopping 20%.
Clearly, distributing resources digitally – especially in education – is an inexorable trend. However, whether the digital textbook resource is a passing fad or a long-term education installment remains to be seen. Similarly, time will tell how this trend will affect teaching and learning. Let’s consider the pros and cons of each:
Since digital production costs are comparatively low, digital textbooks are typically available to students for about 50% less than their print counterparts. This price difference is a quantifiable benefit of the use of digital textbooks, and has lead to many students opting for digital whenever the option exists. These savings are increasingly attractive as the cost of education continues to rise.
Placing a textbook in a digital environment unlocks a world of potential. Key terms and concepts become instantly searchable. Many digital textbooks have contents, important concepts, and exercises linked within the text, allowing students to quickly find and navigate to a topic or problem. Further, engaging videos and other interactive content can be embedded directly into the digital pages as an additional resource. Best of all – no more paper cuts!
It has become the norm to restrict access to digital textbooks by adding expiration dates, barring students from accessing their textbooks after the course ends. Many titles also require the student have an Internet connection to access the text. Until overcome, both restrictions will continue to complicate learning and frustrate both instructors and students alike.
Although they are functional and easy to navigate, digital books are a recent innovation. Most students today are not practiced at digital learning, as the vast majority access their course materials solely in print format. The novel digital environment draws some students out of their comfort zones.
Many students feel there is no comparison to flipping the pages and writing notes in a print textbook. This physical process helps them understand and remember the material. Others simply prefer not to read from a digital screen – we have all felt the ill effects of a bright screen on our eyes. Tangible resources offer many tried-and-true benefits and some students will continue to prefer a printed text to digital.
E-textbooks in their nature rely on expensive and delicate hardware for access. While a printed text can certainly be pricey and easily misplaced, it will never run out of batteries or ask you for a password. Print books are durable, reliable, and function independently.
Lack of Portability
Textbooks are bulky and heavy – a full schedule will stuff a student’s backpack. In order to study, students must shoulder the weight. The ability to load resources for multiple courses onto one portable device alleviates this burden.
Textbooks don’t just break the student’s back; they break Mother Nature’s too. With updates being made routinely, new editions of textbooks have to be printed frequently. Production and distribution of these books puts a remarkable strain on the earth’s precious resources.
In summary, the print platform features fewer barriers for use and is a proven, widely accepted teaching tool. The digital platform eliminates associated costs and materials while adding functionality and features unavailable in print. It is apparent that each platform has its respective benefits. The question is whether the digital platform is worthy of replacing print.
We feel that the education market is in a transitional stage. Based on the recent trend of digitizing the classroom, it is possible that in the future the majority of learners will be ready to go digital. At this point in time however, there is still high demand for print texts. This is why we offer our textbooks to students in both digital and print formats. Our digital books offer interactivity without limitations, and include additional video resources linked in the text, all at an affordable price. While we feel this is the best choice, and have found that most students agree, we continue to offer print as an option to any student who might prefer it.
What are your thoughts on the digital textbook? Do you prefer digital or print textbooks? Have you ever opted not to purchase a required course text because of price? Would a cheaper digital alternative have changed this? Think you know what the future of education looks like? We’d love to hear your thoughts!