eTextbooks: Trend Overview

8 Mar

The Elements App, Amazon Kindle, Kno Tablet, Smarthistory website

Even though ebooks are becoming a regular part of our daily lives, educators have struggled to implement them at the academic level. But soon that will all change. According to the Horizon Report, the time to adoption for ebooks in education is one year or less.

Why etextbooks?

Digital text, especially when accessed online, greatly influences how we access and process information. Students no longer want static text, but rather information that is:

interactive, customizable, mashable, social, easy to share, and easy to annotate

with multimedia features including

embedded video & multimedia, 3D models, collaborative notes and comments, quizzes to gage understanding.

Textbooks are expensive and heavy, and many educators hope the etextbooks will provide cheaper and healthier solutions for their students.

Common features of ebooks and ereaders


Amazon's Kindle

Before looking at etextbooks, it’s helpful to address some common features of ebooks and ereaders.

While there are many different ebook formats, most of them are only designed to replicate the experience of simple pleasure reading. The popular Amazon Kindle let you define words, search the text, and even highlight and take notes, but most students do not prefer to use them for textbook content.

In fact, according to the Book Industry Study Group:

Nearly 75% of students … said they prefer printed texts, citing a fondness for print’s look and feel, as well as its permanence and ability to be resold.

The reason students don’t like ebooks is likely because the software and readers available for e-reading are not suited to the nature of textbook-reading. While basic ereaders are ideal for lite reading, they are not currently suited for the complex layouts of educational content found in textbooks.

In order to meet student concerns, many dynamic educators are rethinking the textbook by either moving towards more enhanced etextbooks, or replacing the textbook with increasingly reliable educational content available online.

Coursesmart App

Coursesmart app on the iPad

Enhanced etextbooks

More and more “enhanced” etextbooks are coming on the market. They have more dynamic features, including robust note-taking tools, embedded multimedia, and more.

Because of the market shift towards tablets such as the iPad and Xoom, we may be seeing more and more captivating educational content. The unique interactive functionality of tablets are ideal to enhanced book apps.

Many educators argue that as etextbooks are adopted more in the classroom, even more features will be demanded by students.

From the Horizon Report:

As the electronic book moves further from a digital reproduction of a printed piece, some writers are seeing it become something far richer, allowing journeys through worlds real and imagined, undertaken not alone but in company with other readers.

Enhanced ebooks will have greater customization & personalization including the ability to choose from various vocabulary settings.

They will be adaptive & mashable with content that can be continuously updated by publishers and rearranged for greater understanding by students.

They will be interactive & participative allowing students to share group comments, interact with virtual experts and take quizzes.

They will be living & connected with website-like interactive features and robust social networking tools.

(Source: “Forget the Future: Here’s the Textbook I Want Now.” David Wees. 21st Century Educator.)

Enhanced etextbooks are complicated to create, particularly if they will be accessible on every device, from a laptop to a smartphone, which is something students prefer. They may be expensive, and currently publishers seem to be primarily focusing on the collegiate market, not on the K-12.

Open/Online Educational Resources

ck12 Flexbook

CK12 Flexbook

If K-12 educators want to use more interactive, personalized, adaptive and connected content in their classroom, they may need to replace or supplement their textbook with open educational resources available online.

Open educational resources can take the form of shared, customizable online textbooks (see CK12 Flexbook or Flatworld Knowledge) or online courseware (see MIT Open Courseware or Connexions).

Teachers can collect these resources and then make them available to students on a Learning Management System (LMS) (for traditions LMS see Moodle or Blackboard; for a more social LMS see Schoolology or Edmodo).

Open or online resources can be made available to students through alternative publishing methods, such as chapter-based purchasing, or the more theoretical concept of selective printing of copyrighted material for use in mashed-up textbooks.


For more information on the trend of etextbooks, take a look at this Prezi presentation, created for the annual conference of the DC/MD area independent school bookstore managers on March 2, 2011:

21st Century Textbooks: Implications for Independent Schools

One Response to “eTextbooks: Trend Overview”

  1. Bonnie March 8, 2011 at 9:12 am #

    Thanks for your post, Steve! I am teaching a workshop for undergraduates on Prezi in a few weeks. It seems like a great tool to augment class lectures when students have such high expectations for content delivery.

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