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The Tipping Point with Digital Textbooks? At least in higher ed.

For a few years before I joined SETDA, I was fortunate to be Editorial Director for both a K-12 technology and education publication – T.H.E. Journal – and a higher ed publication – Campus Technology.  It was fascinating to read and write about both levels of education and their use of technology and to watch the changes, and rate of changes, in each.  

One area where higher ed is leading is in the use of digital and open content.  

There are many reasons for this, but a primary one is a culture of using a variety of sources for content in higher ed classes, as well as a very fragmented and flexible business model.  The rise of open content has been driven in part by students looking for and demanding less expensive approaches.  Nicole Allen's Make Textbooks Affordable campaign from Student PIRG has been a force here

A recent study by Xplana ( projects that digital textbooks will reach a tipping point: "that point on the industry/product continuum at which current financial variables and market factors make the eventual dominance of digital over print an inevitable outcome within 5-7 years."  The study cites a number of factors including cost, growth of online learning and others, as well as new variables based on the popularity of the iPad, higher than expected e-reader sales and open educational resources and open textbooks.  

While the higher ed textbook market is substantially different from K-12, I wonder how fast the K-12 market will reach that tipping point.  With about a third of the states making deliberate policy changes to increase flexibility and digital content and huge, influential (pardon the redundancy) states such as California and Texas actively calling for open content as well as encouraging more digital content, it might be sooner than we think.  Clearly the one book per student per subject per grade level business model continues to be dominant, but it could be changing.  

What do you think?

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