The future of textbooks looks like this

New, comprehensive data reveals the inevitability of digital textbooks and course materials; same old issues of quality, cost, and access.

Faculty and students may still prefer print to digital, but spikes in print costs, as well as a demand for personalization, is pushing digital textbooks and course materials to the implementation forefront. But are any faculty really going digital? Which content distributors will thrive? What are the implementation concerns? And when will going digital really happen?

Thanks to two massive surveys and reports by the National Association of College Stores (NACS) and the Independent College Bookstore Association (ICBA) in partnership with the Campus Computing Survey (CCS), faculty and student perspectives on going digital, as well as the trends moving forward into digital textbooks and course materials, are highlighted.

Why the Push?

According to the NACS report, the traditional model of course content creation and distribution (faculty-authored and publisher-produced textbooks) is being challenged, thanks to new digital players and learning content formats, such as: open courseware, open educational resources (OER), and adaptive/personalized learning—all of which promise lower costs and better outcomes.

The ICBA and CCS report notes that, indeed, quality and cost of course materials for students emerge as the key factors that drive the decisions of college faculty about textbooks and other course materials. Key findings from a fall 2015/winter 2016 survey of 2,902 college and university faculty at 29 two- and four-year institutions found that 97 percent of faculty surveyed report their own assessment of quality as the top factor in their selection of course materials. Ranked second was the cost of course materials for students.

Outside of the two major issues of costs to students and increased accountability through built-in analytics and options for personalization, other forces are contributing to the push, explains the NACS report; for example, as more students move to online courses, more students source their learning content online and in digital form. Also, student rentals, and borrowing, of new and used books in on the rise, as well as the use of legal (and illegal) download websites.

“[Also,] Amazon has entered the college learning content ecosystem with its Amazon Campus Program,” notes the report. “Its scale, brand power, and technology leadership is a game changer.”

Why the Pushback?

Though the faculty surveyed in the ICBA and CCS report note that quality is their utmost concern when choosing textbooks and course materials, and NACS states that personalization and analytics functions within digital are largely considered features in digital textbooks, less than half (45 percent) of the faculty surveyed in the ICBA and CCS report agreed/strongly agreed that digital course materials provide significant added value content not available in print.

(Next page: Digital textbook push back; plans moving forward)

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