Digital classroomOnline learning

Why are digital textbooks so popular?

Think back to when you were in grade school. Remember your overstuffed locker, flooded with course materials and loose papers. Picture your old textbooks, filled with scribbled in (and scribbled out) answers, marked with names of owners past and linked to memories of late-night study sessions.

Now try to imagine your educational experience without those textbooks.

Not so easy, right?

It’s hard to picture classrooms without physical textbooks, but for an increasing number of students in the U.S., digital forms of these educational tools have moved into the spotlight.


Digital textbooks have found a cozy new home in the 21st-century classroom.

Access is easier.

At the end of the day, digital textbooks provide features that can make the learning experience more accessible for schoolchildren. Unlike physical books, digital forms allow students to virtually search for keywords or topics, port their course materials weightlessly from the classroom to the home, and interact with online tools that enhance the printed coursework. By making the learning experience more hands-on, these digital tools can help students gain a greater understanding of the materials presented within.

Raised surrounded by technology, this generation of students expects the virtual – they want their textbooks to be at the touch of their fingers, they want to be able to watch a video about their course materials, and they want to be able to access their classwork anytime, anywhere.

Consider these findings from the Pew Research Center, which note that American teens have more access to smartphones, laptops and tablets than ever before.

Teens’ Phone, Computer & Console Access

As teens continue to buy more electronic devices at younger ages, the opportunities for the digital textbook industry continue to expand.

The market keeps growing.

Textbook publishers have not sat idly by as digital classroom tools increase in popularity. Cengage Learning announced that it sold more digital units than print textbooks in its fiscal year 2016. The company even found that students who used its digital learning platform MindTap – which offers online learning solutions and houses textbooks for more than 550 courses – for three hours each week were “twice as likely to get 90% or above on their assignments.”

tablet, notebook, digital textbook
Introducing digital tools to the classroom can increase student engagement.

But Cengage Learning isn’t the only textbook publisher to integrate digital solutions with its print books. Pearson Education has paved the way for digital education innovation over the past several years, developing solutions tailored for specific devices and further increasing educational access for students across the world. In one study, the company found that digital textbooks contributed to higher SAT scores and engagement in the classroom.

“The students love [the textbook] because it’s on their iPad, and they won’t lose it,” said one biology teacher at Monroe Township High School interviewed by Pearson. “They love the animations and simulations that come along with it. There are so many things not offered with a print textbook.”

As more institutions adopt digital textbooks and online learning tools, the possibilities for the future of education technology seem endless. A new report released by Technavio predicts that technology will further integrate itself in the 21st-century classroom as teachers introduce interactivity into their lessons. The firm expects the education technology industry to exceed $55 billion by 2019, opening a vast range of possibilities for the ever-changing classroom landscape.

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