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The Future of Textbooks: Print or Digital?

written by: •edited by: Carly Stockwell•updated: 1/28/2014

Technology plays an ever-increasing role in classrooms, whether elementary, high school or college. Digital textbooks may seem inevitable for most students, but there are still many reasons why they are not as practical as print.

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    Are Print Textbooks On Their Way Out? Maybe... The realm of educational resources is quickly going digital in elementary, high school and college classrooms across the country. Electronic resources, which typically include laptops, tablets or other devices, are being used as part of a student’s everyday studies, quickly forgoing many traditional educational tools, such as calculators, written tests and quizzes, and most importantly, textbooks.

    It’s no surprise that as technology continues to invade classrooms throughout the United States that many schools will switch using online or eTextbooks. Besides being cost-efficient, digital textbooks are more portable and contain more current information than printed materials. They are easier to teach from if the classroom is equipped with whiteboards, tablets or other computers or devices. However, there are still some downsides to the product.

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    The Movement Toward Digital Textbooks

    In 2010, less than one percent of all academic textbook sales were digital. That number is expected to grow to 20 percent in 2014.1 While this seems to be a new trend, it’s too soon to tell whether digital textbooks are here to stay. Only time will tell the effects they have in comparison with print textbooks on teaching and learning.

    775 3707664 Students who prefer eBooks do so for a few reasons: price, portability and interactivity. The cost to produce a digital textbook is low compared to a print edition, roughly 50 percent less. This savings have led many college students and some elementary and high schools to take advantage of this option whenever possible. They are also extremely portable and are easier to access than carting around heavy textbooks.2

    Digital Textbooks also open the door to a world of interactive opportunities for teachers and students. Concepts, issues and problems are easily searchable on the Internet. Text becomes more engaging with interactive content, videos and exercises directly linked within each document.

    However, not everyone is on board yet with digital textbooks. Some feel that they have limitations because of the expiration dates that may be added to each book. Students can’t access information from certain eBooks once a course is over, and many titles are only accessible via Internet access, which is restricted on many elementary and high school campuses.

    Finally, while eTextbooks may be great additions to classrooms, not all students are practiced in using them and are more comfortable using print editions.

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    Are Print Textbooks on Their Way Out? Maybe Not.

    While many schools are upgrading their curriculums to 21st Century learning, which includes the implementation of electronic media and information as well as digital textbooks, many are still using print editions for every day lessons. Some research even suggests that 75 percent of college students prefer printed textbooks over digital editions.3

    Besides being easier to read (the print is hard to read on smaller devices, which can cause eye strain), some students feel that there is no comparison when it comes to turning pages and writing notes in the margins. Textbooks are also more reliable. Digital textbooks rely on expensive hardware that can break if dropped or run out of battery life in the middle of a class or lecture. Print editions function independently and are durable.

    Nonetheless, print textbooks are not very portable. They are bulky and heavy and can weigh down a backpack when carrying a full load of classes. They also aren’t very green. Some textbooks are updated regularly using more natural resources than digital editions.

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    The Future of Textbooks in Education

    As learning institutions across the country continue to struggle to balance budgets despite massive cuts, educators are realizing that they need to meet the demands of the digital world as it relates to classroom learning.

    While many students and professors may not still be ready for eTextbooks, publishers are increasingly distributing digital resources since students have devices more readily available than in year’s past. More students are trying digital textbooks, and growing percentages are preferring them to print editions. With technology constantly changing, it’s almost inevitable that more types of digital books will find themselves on student’s laptops, tablets and smartphones. To what extent, however, has yet to be seen.