Is there a Future for e-textbooks in Online Courses?

What is the future of Digital Textbooks in U.S. education? After I participated in a webinar on Friday, by this same title sponsored by MBS textbooks, though enlightening, it dawned on me that we [educators] have been asking all the wrong questions about e-textbooks. Instead of when and if [will we incorporate e-texbooks], how [will we include them], we should be asking why and what. What tools and resources will support the learning objectives? What will be relevant and meaningful to students?  What are the needs of the learners? Why should we choose a given textbook?

Before getting caught up in the slick, attractive and enhanced world of interactive e-textbooks, it’s a perfect opportunity to stop and…

Reframe the Textbook Discussion
The discussion needs to be re-framed in the context of the course instructional design process. Let me explain. During a recent re-design of two general education online courses, I revisited the instructional design model I usually follow, the Dick, Carey and Carey ISD. This model reminded me that the textbook is an instructional tool in the big picture strategy —- it is not the driver of the course, it supports the course objectives.

The AHAH moment!
I began to rethink the textbook conundrum, AHAH! Maybe the textbook as we know it may not even be necessary! It [the textbook] might not be the right instructional ‘tool’ for the course in the first place. A radical thought for some? — I am not suggesting to rule out textbooks as viable options (whether hard copy or digital), but we need to ask —- is this e-textbook (from one of the major textbook publishers) the only option? It might be … might. There is a plethora of resources available to educators on the Web, many at little or no cost. We have choices for instructional resources that we did not have forty, thirty or even ten years ago. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Education is transforming, and morphing in response to shifts in digital products and resources, and information consumption patterns. Course instructors and designers  have the opportunity to take charge and assess their current learning strategy, students and choice of [instructional] materials.

Start with the Instructional Design Process
Let’s take a step back and review the foundations of a course design. I am a fan of Instructional design models, because it gives me a framework when designing or re-designing courses (online or not). As mentioned my model of choice  is Dick and Carey’s Systems Approach model of instruction. The model is based on Gagne’s domains of learning. The instructor, learners, materials, teaching activities learning and performance environments interact to bring about the desired learning outcomes, whether for online courses or other.

Dick, Carey and Carey Instructional Design Model

Side note: it is not until stage 7 (of 9 stages) that selecting instructional materials, which includes text books, even happens.  This model is one of many – though each follows similar patterns in course development.

Assessing the best Instructional Tools (textbooks, digital learning objects etc)
What better time than now, in 2012 on the brink of major educational transformation to revisit the building blocks in our courses to assess what the best instructional materials, assessment methods, and tools will most effectively support learning outcomes. Analyzing the learner, and how he or she learns is another essential step, as the learning context has changed:

  • Learning is social
  • The learner, more than ever before has access to tools to construct knowledge
  • Learning is anytime, anywhere

Since the context of learning has changed, so should the instructional tools.

Open and Free: Course Instructional Materials Options

The [no] textbook challenge!
To wrap up – I am not suggesting we disregard the college publishers textbooks or e-textbooks, digital options and tools as viable options. Not at all, but I am suggesting that educators:
1. Use a sound instructional model as a guide when designing or re-designing online courses
2. Consider, then select the best tool to fit the needs of students and course objectives
3. Consider options – research what resources and tools are available

Check back later this week for my no-textbook challenge. I’m redesigning two online general education courses, US Government and English Literature.  My goal is to find alternatives to the current textbooks used by using OER and other tools, that will cost the student not more than $20.

Keep Learning :)