The higher education course content market is in chaos. Print textbook prices continue to soar, up 73 percent in the past 10 years, more than 4 times the rate of inflation, according to US PIRG report. Students are delaying or worse, not buying course materials because they aren’t affordable, according to a recent survey. And while faculty are slowly starting to embrace low-cost or free textbook alternatives, namely Open Educational Resources [OER], their awareness levels remain in the basement, according to a new Babson Research survey.

Meantime, two- and four-year public institutions’ online and physical bookstores continue to issue RFPs with recurring themes and required elements:

  • Support the institution’s mission by providing necessary textbooks and related course materials to students at the lowest possible cost
  • Offer used and rental textbooks, “cost-saving solutions”
  • Return commission revenues to the institution to support campus programs

Therein lies the rub: we can’t answer  21st century demands to adopt new, affordable  types of course content with an outdated 20th century model for buying  textbooks.

Looking to the Uber Model

The industry is on the cusp of change. Emerging content formats—adaptive course content, e-texts with reader analytics, virtual science kits—can more deeply align and integrate with the learning experience and cost less than traditional textbooks. In tandem with this shift, new technology is also opening a digital opportunity to reinvent how we select, purchase and distribute course materials.

Change can be daunting, but it often creates more efficient and effective ways of doing things. Think Uber:  it ushered in a new model for the taxi industry.  Tap a button on your mobile phone, the car comes to you, the driver has directions on a GPS, you know your ETA, a record of your trips is readily available and no money changes hands.  The experience is faster, better, and often more economical than traditional cabs.

The same can be done for course content selection and acquisition; our industry has the opportunity to reinvent the process and cross the digital divide.  Together, we can create a model that utilizes a more holistic, strategic approach where all campus stakeholders benefit and course materials are aligned with the institutional mission of teaching and learning.

(Next page: 6 steps to successfully break the print textbook model)

About the Author:

Kerry Pigman is Ed Map’s Co-founder, President, and COO. Ed Map is a content strategy and logistics company. Through its people and technology, Ed Map simplifies the discovery, adoption, management, and delivery of quality educational content to help institutions lower the cost of education and improve outcomes. Ed Map makes it convenient and economically attractive for institutions to support student acquisition of course materials. Expert advisory services and outstanding customer service complement its comprehensive OPENVUE® technology platform.


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