Is Universal Adoption of Digital Textbooks a Near-Term Inevitability?

Writing for the Associated Press (AP), Josh Lederman reports on recent comments by U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan who wants to see traditional textbooks rendered obsolete in a few short years. The article, which has a decidedly K-12 perspective (more on that below) notes the potential economic benefits of textbook digitization. It also notes the importance of digital textbooks when it comes to keeping up with educational systems in other countries where this trend is well underway. South Korea, for example, is singled out for its stated goal of evolving to fully digital textbooks in three years.

Of course, many see benefits that go beyond the mere avoidance of having to lug books around. Mr. Lederman’s piece captures this as well:

The transition to digital involves much more than scanning books and uploading them to computers, tablet devices or e-readers. Proponents describe a comprehensive shift to immersive, online learning experiences that engage students in a way a textbook never could… A student studying algebra might click to watch a video clip explaining a new concept or property. If they get stuck, interactive help features could figure out the problem. Personalized quizzes ensure they’re not missing anything – and if they are, bring them up to speed before they move on to the next lesson. Social networking allows students to interact with teachers and each other even when school isn’t in session.

Now, about that K-12 perspective. Let’s assume Secretary Duncan’s appeal is heard and met in grade schools and high schools across the land. This would mean that in a few short years, high school seniors preparing for college would be completely familiar with digital textbooks. And, if that’s true, won’t these students expect digital textbooks in higher education, too? Far-fetched? Maybe, but if you think so, take a moment to examine the stats in the article about the digital textbook adoption rate across the country in the last two years…

Access to the AP story is available at this link.