It’s a given, many in the education world say, that almost all textbooks and other course materials will go digital within a few years. Paper texts will be as dead as the trees from which they’re made.
That seems likely if you consider indicators such as the financial statements from major publishers. Pearson, the largest of the textbook producers, reported a few weeks ago that digital publishing and services now make up half of its income—a first for the company. Other textbook publishers are also experiencing rises in digital sales.
Yet, college students aren’t all that crazy about digital textbooks, even though they prefer digital formats for personal communications and entertainment. A commentary in Carnegie Mellon University’s campus newspaper, written by a CMU student who first experienced online course materials in high school, describes how the negatives of digital textbooks ultimately cancel out the positives.
In short, the student writer says, it’s simply harder to study course materials on a digital screen. Even homework is often online now, he notes, and some multiple-choice exercises can be gamed, undermining retention of concepts.
If sales of digital course materials are growing, it’s probably because they frequently cost less, a persuasive factor. The Educause/Internet2 e-textbook pilot conducted during the 2012-13 academic year found that lower prices was the biggest incentive for using digital materials for both students and faculty members.