Due to the influence of technology, the notion of digital textbooks has been refined and revisited over and over again in the last 5-7 years. Many companies (start-ups, publishers, existing players, …) have conceptualized their own model of digital textbooks. To reflect their vision, many have developed their own platform and ecosystem powered by the rise of a richer web language by the name of HTML 5.
In this article, we aim at presenting our view on digital textbooks and their advantages for all stakeholders. We did not just come up with this vision by ourselves. We have been following an innovative, business-minded STM academic publisher who values this technology for what it can do to improve learning and the way it can benefit students and professors. Instructors are the central piece of the whole puzzle. The textbook is the foundation for the critical part of their curriculum planning and delivery.
Since the beginning of the decade, most innovations rocking up the digital publishing industry are intended to better manage the production workflow of both print and digital books, the direct benefits to editors being a better control of the cost involved, enabling the distribution of digital books with a low marginal production cost. In this model, e-textbooks are just another delivery package. Available on tablets and browsers? Good. But it is doubtful that absolute sales will increase as we might just see the cannibalization of one delivery channel over another one. The ultimate challenge is to increase the overall textbook revenue by proposing an attractive offering which will offset some business killing alternative, like photocopying, and get genuinely endorsed by tutors. The right method has to provide a learner-centred experience which can be augmented by professors and educators. Fulfilling this objective will radically overtake Learning Management Systems (LMS) which are not directly contributing to learning outcomes.
Increasing sales revenue will not come from print, and replicating the print experience will not satisfy the sought-after customer, the student. This premise is therefore forcing publishers and editors to propose an augmented learning experience which eventually ramps up the total number of students acquiring e-textbooks. Our partner has planned a dedicated strategy articulated around the personalization of e-textbook content, curated and enhanced by educators and professors. Such a model implies a targeted use of technology, keeping things at hand for educators and professors. But the opportunity to enhance a reference textbook with core-subject multimedia assets, collaborative tools or guided navigation is instrumental in building personalized learning experiences.
Personalizing a textbook means editing its content on a web interface. Customization features encompass added value items like:
Online video, streamed from video services
Self-assessment in the form of simple quizzes
Bespoke table of contents, which guide the learning pathway chosen by the tutor
Supplemental texts and articles
Moreover, the publisher will also benefit from a dedicated channel to feed subject-related content to the students: thematic forum, tables of formula and supplemental materials will all make up the textbook as an enhanced and focused learning delivery vehicle. From a learning and teaching perspective, the benefit is to bundle information in layers: it can be shown or hidden to facilitate reading and to better match the knowledge of the students. Annotations are shared between the teacher and the students to improve collaborative work and communication.