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 🙂

17 thoughts on “Is there a Future for e-textbooks in Online Courses?

  1. Is there a Future for the LMS in Online Courses? When reading your blog it dawned on me that we [educators] have been asking all the wrong questions about the LMS. Instead of when and if [will we use a LMS], how [will we use a LMS], 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 LMS? 🙂


    1. Ed,

      Excellent question! Absolutely right — we as educators need to started asking different questions; challenging the status quo. Do we really need a LMS? Do we really need textbooks?

      Thanks for your thoughts!


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

    | online learning insights” <T I S in fact got me addicted with ur web-site! I reallywill be back much more frequently. Many thanks -Nelly


  3. I recently completed a 100% online degree program through Full Sail University and when I started the program we were using traditional printed textbooks. Full Sail decided to switch to e-books about halfway through and used Adobe Digital Editions for some and Vital Source for others. Aside from the poor implementation of many of the eBooks (they were little more than scanned versions of the textbook with no ability to resize text or in some cases even search the text) the number one complaint I had was that I was forced to use a laptop for all my reading. The laptop is not a great form factor for periods of long concentrated reading and you’re limited in the number of places you can bring it in a way that you are not with a printed book, and to a lesser extent e-readers.

    If there was an option to use a Kindle, iPad, or even an iPhone as my reading device I might have been more supportive of the switch. When considering a switch to eBooks think about what devices they will be consumed on and how DRM may limit the options students have for moving the content from one device to another.


    1. Hi Christopher. An excellent point and consideration – to develop a thoughtful roll-out strategy whenever launching a new technological tool or application – (in this case e-textbooks).

      Also, a reminder for educators is to consider the needs of the learner – reading on a laptop is painfully slow compared to an e-reading device such as a Kindle or tablet device!

      What was the rationale behind Full Sails’ decision to make this switch?

      Thanks Christopher for your post – a good reminder to consider the student’s perspective, and to develop a thoughtful, well-planned implementation strategy when introducing a significant change.


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