Slow Uptake on E-Textbooks

Mindshift Article on Slow Adoption of E-textbooks

A very interesting and thought provoking article that explores the potential reasons why there might be such slow uptake of e-textbooks, especially when in developed countries more than 50% of all books are now being sold in electronic format. Whilst I can see strength in all the arguments given in the article for the slow progress; limited ability to share, mismatch between electronic media and the way students study, limited differential in cost between paper and electronic textbooks and limited functionality for marking up and note keeping, I also see three other potential reasons that the article doesn’t touch upon;

  1. If I was heading a company that makes a major portion of its revenues from textbooks, would I want to encourage the development of e-textbooks or any other kind of media that places more material in the hands of the learner at lower cost? Right now such publishers are able to make considerable money from the issue of new editions at regular intervals. Even better if there has to be a new edition due to a change in the syllabus. However, if the textbook is electronic people will see editing as an ongoing rolling process rather like a website, for which the provider has no real justification for charging me more when the edition changes. Those who publish textbooks must really fear the ever growing volume of free material available that enables learners to take ownership of their own learning without any revenue opportunity for them. This makes them, I believe, naturally ambivalent towards the electronic media space.
  2. A textbook is traditionally a one-way medium, passive and fixed. However, people’s experiences of electronic media are far more interactive, inherently two-way. Therefore, people have come to expect that the best online content will have hyperlinks to additional material and information, interactive assessments to check for understanding etc. If the e-textbook is essentially an electronic replica of the paper textbook with none of the interactivity or ‘stickiness’, then learners are likely to feel in some way disappointed in this as an electronic experience,
  3. When it comes to matters of choice away from school students take their own routes about what is cutting edge, interesting and worthy. However, in school they have been habituated to be far more passive and have their decisions driven by their teachers. I suspect this is also playing a part as the teachers share the reluctant feelings towards e-textbooks of the publishers, for different reasons. Change in the classroom means changed ways of working and these are likely to take some time. A dynamic, ever changing., interactive, two-way electronic ‘text book’ is something destined to intimidate a proportion of teachers for some time.

Ultimately, my hope is that the potential benefits for learners, the potential enhancements to the learning process will win in the end and change will happen. When it comes it could really be quite exciting.

To see just how exciting, it’s worth checking out this link to an article from Fast Company:
Fast Company Article – Bio Book


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