Over the last decade, e-books have risen to immense popularity. The convenience of having access to several books (or even a whole library) on one lightweight device is appealing (though print books still outsell e-books 4 to 1 [Errera]). The popularity of e-books even extends to textbooks. One study found that 66% of college students surveyed had previously used an online textbook (e-textbook) in 2016, up from 42% in 2012 (Raible and Denoyelles). The most commonly cited reasons for the use of e-textbooks, according to Raible and Denoyelles, were lower cost and ease of access. However, these are not the only reasons to choose e-textbooks over traditional print texts.
One of the greatest benefits of an e-textbook is that they are frequently updated. Typos can be corrected quickly, and content and data can be periodically updated—all at no cost to the user. There is no need to seek an updated version of a book or lament over typos. All you need to do is send a service request to the textbook company.
One of the biggest benefits of online textbooks is the additional features built into the resource. MyEducator has several built-in features that make online learning more accessible and interesting. First, users can highlight and add notes to portions of the textbook. There is also a flashcard tool with preloaded glossary terms from the text and options for users to create additional flashcards. The MyEducator platform also has a listen tool for users. This tool engages those that need auditory stimulation to go along with what they are reading and makes the resource more accessible than a paper book.
MyEducator also offers built-in assessments and additional material for students and instructors. Assessments can be added to any part of a resource and can even be ungraded in order to serve as a checkpoint for comprehension. Additional material can include PowerPoint presentations (available for students or instructors only), learning activities, and even notes for instructors. These materials make it easy for an instructor to pick a book and jump right into teaching without worrying about extensive lesson preparation.
Another functionality that e-textbooks offer is the ability to hyperlink. It is easy to add a link that will lead to supplementary videos (Why should you add videos?), articles, or even games! There is so much content available on the internet that can benefit students if they only knew where to find it. The e-textbook itself, by nature of being digital, also has many accessibility features built in to help students who may have difficulties. The font size can be adjusted, the text can be read by a screen reader, and captions and transcripts are readily available.
In addition, e-textbooks cannot be lost, stolen, or damaged. As long as you remember you have access to the digital repository the e-textbook belongs to (usually through a login), you have access to that book. E-textbooks are also incredibly environmentally friendly and lightweight. No longer do students have to carry the literal and figurative weight of all the dead trees it takes to produce a textbook on their backs. All the student has to do is carry around a laptop or other device, which many students carry around anyway.
This is not to say that there are no problems associated with e-textbooks. One downside that is immediately apparent is that there are almost no ways to share or sell the resource, which is a major way students can recoup the cost of a traditional print book. However, this is often mitigated by the lower upfront cost of digital materials and the ability to use the resource long after the course is over. There is also a higher chance of distraction when reading on an electronic device in the form of notifications or the allure of the internet. Over time, screens can be hard to read and may even cause eye pain.
One of the biggest downsides, however, is that comprehension and retainment of information may be more limited in readers who use e-books. Raible and Denoyelles found that “students in 2016 reported lower self-efficacy than those in 2012 concerning e-textbook technical and study skills, and less than half felt that they could learn as effectively with an e-textbook as with a print textbook.” A different study showed that in content with more than 500 words, readers retain more information when the content is read in print than on a screen (Singer and Alexander). These problems can be mitigated by taking steps to increase comprehension and retention (such as those mentioned in 4 Tips for Reading Electronic Texts).
While concerns about comprehension and retention are valid, e-textbooks generally have more to offer than their print counterparts. But it doesn’t have to be an either-or situation. Many textbooks are available digitally and in print, and activities and resources can be hosted separately from a textbook. Ultimately, instructors and students need to consider what is best for them and their learning environment. But with the benefits of low cost, accessibility, and additional resources, e-textbooks are likely to continue to grow in popularity among institutions, instructors, and students.