Wave of the Future: Digital Textbooks Gaining in Popularity

Textbooks are going digital. For bookworms, digital books appear to be the wave of the future: according to the New York Times, digital books outsold their paper counterparts for the first time last year. But the success of digital books hasn’t translated just yet to textbooks, despite the efforts of several universities and publishers to make them a more integral part of teaching and learning. So, what’s the disconnect? Why haven’t students and teachers been eager to embrace digital textbooks—and how can publishers make inroads into the educational market?

Books plus
One of the more attractive features of digital textbooks is their ability to deliver more than just text to their readers. Videos, interactive illustrations and exclusive online content can all be added to digital textbooks to help students engage with the learning material. Of course, these extra features cost money to produce and can add to the textbook’s price tag, but the idea that digital textbooks should offer more than just the standard chapters and glossaries might provide publishers in the education space a way to connect with students and their instructors.

The portable classroom
The Internet has made it possible for students of all grades to learn online: from elementary school to college, students and their instructors can interact as effectively online as they can in person. And this can create an advantage for digital textbooks: not only can digital texts be read on a laptop, e-reader or mobile phone, but readers can share notes and questions about the text in real time. The ability for online learning programs to incorporate educational material that can be shared can encourage collaboration and help students stay on task no matter where they are. For students in inner city and rural areas, the ability to receive a quality education doesn’t have to be tied to how much tax money their district receives.

Preparation for the workforce
Education isn’t the only area which has been transformed by technology: the business landscape is full of new digital landmarks as well. If used creatively, digital textbooks can both deliver class content to students and teach them to effectively use the online tools they’ll use in their careers. And as more offices go paperless—replacing notepads with laptops and tablets, relying on e-mail and online message programs instead of more conventional communications—digital textbooks can ease students into depending on technology for everyday tasks. Digital natives—and students with access to technology—won’t have as steep a learning curve as older students whose first interactions with technology happen in the classroom. But if e-books are introduced, students can begin to acquire the skills they’ll need to succeed in a high-tech office.

The popularity of digital books will continue to rise as retailers offer more e-reading devices, like Barnes and Noble’s Nook and Amazon’s line of Kindles. And schools all over the country are embracing tablets like the iPad to help facilitate learning. Publishers will have to combine price, convenience and innovation to make digital textbooks the standard by which students learn—but the speed at which technology moves makes that a strong possibility. Digital books are the wave of the future, but the wave needs to be strong enough for students and teachers to jump onto it.

Lindsey is a freelance writer and editor living in the Midwest. She’s currently considering enrolling in a coloradotech.edu on-line learning program to improve her writing skills.

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