Higher education is going through a massive transformation thanks to the adoption of new technologies like mobile learning, gamification and digital courseware. The transformation towards digital has been accelerated impacting all aspects of education including learning materials and content. Many colleges and universities have invested in technology, laying emphasis on education facilitated by digital and remote learning techniques.
According to Pearson Education, 84% teachers, administrators and students think that shifting to digital can solve the challenges of education. Around 82% of the respondents of the survey also feel that digital is the future. In fact it’s here and now as educational institutions are forced to digital due to COVID-19.
The trends are visible all around the world with a recent push to transform higher education through the use of technology. Among the things to be digitized, learning materials have emerged as the top consideration and the education sector is now discovering the best way to go about.
The simplest form of digital learning material is eBooks or content published in ePub formats. Many publishers have already started converting their physical textbooks to electronic formats which can be accessed on a desktop or mobile. At the other end of the spectrum lies digital courseware, which is built from scratch to suit the learning needs of the students.
Related Read: Top 10 Advantages of eBooks over Printed Books
There’s a strong debate on the future of higher education learning material- will we see the ePub becoming mainstream or will digital courseware trump everything and emerge as the top choice?
This is an important question and will determine the direction higher education takes in the coming years. In this blog, we will go over the implications of using both ePubs or eBooks and digital courseware in a bid to find out the future of higher education learning materials.
The Growth of eBooks in Higher Education
We all know what a textbook is. Whenever someone utters the word, we can easily visualize a hard-covered, glossy-paged physical book with printed information, tables and charts to deliver learning content.
eBooks have changed the definition of textbooks completely. Now you don’t need to carry around voluminous copies of books to classes that take up all the space in your backpack and weigh enough to bend your spine! ePubs come in electronic formats and can be easily accessed from mobile devices or computers.
eBooks drew their inspiration from the publishers who used to ship CDs with their books during the 1990s. Slowly we saw the direct conversion of textbooks to eBooks in simple electronic formats like PDF which can be downloaded or accessed by students using mobile devices like phones, iPads and Kindle.
The sale of digital textbooks is predicted to surpass 25% of new textbook sales for higher education in the United States in the next 5 years. It will also be the dominant trend for higher education and career education markets.
eBooks have developed further with the inclusion of interactive elements such as videos, quizzes and more inline in the text. Now the students don’t need to go anywhere else and can rely on their ePubs for a complete learning experience. eBooks are gradually becoming more interactive, enabling students to enjoy a rich and engaging learning experience for better outcomes.
The Emergence of Digital Courseware
It’s not easy to define digital courseware given the extent of digital curriculum and amount of learning and teaching solutions available in the market. In its simplest form, digital courseware refers to the curriculum delivered through customized software to facilitate teaching and learning.
Though digital courseware has a broad definition, all solutions share some common characteristics-
- Content that covers the complete curriculum of credit courses
- Content structure informed and developed based on instructional design
- Viable adoption options to meet the needs of institutions
- A comprehensive learner audience
Based on the characteristics, we can say that the digital courseware market is huge, diverse and still evolving. Companies use proprietary digital platforms to deliver digital courseware according to the needs of the students and their learning pace, allowing for the personalization of education and increased interactivity.
Digital courseware can take many forms, but currently, the following are the most common-
- Textbook Bundles – Printed textbooks are converted to eBooks with supplemental materials and assessments, making the course complete.
- Adjusted Learning Experiences – The courseware includes regular and immediate feedback loop for students, often in combination with assessment and assignment tools.
- Interactive Textbooks – These are electronic textbooks or eBooks that come with various interactive features to enhance learning and knowledge retention.
- Open Educational Resources (OER) Products – OER course products are developed based on open resources and utilize instructional design and professional services.
- Gamification and Simulations – Gamification and simulation solutions go a long way to encourage engagement and collaboration. The solutions also provide students with hands-on learning, teaching them about real life scenarios effectively.
- Customized Courseware – Custom digital courseware is mostly developed by colleges and universities to meet their unique needs. Such solutions take help of content delivery platforms and custom publishing.
Both ePub and digital courseware are competing for institutional adoption. But can we say which one is going to be the future of higher education?
The answer is not so simple and depends on a lot of factors. We are going to go into the implications of each and try to determine which one will have mass adoption in the coming years.
ePub Vs. Digital Courseware: Which is the Future of Higher Education?
Like we already said, a lot of factors will influence the adoption of ePub and digital courseware. Let’s explore them in details-
1. Availability of Content
Many publishers have already converted the printed version of textbooks to electronic formats like PDF or ePub. This is an easy process where you don’t need to create new content or hire new writers. You can just use your copyright material and convert them into digital forms without incurring any extra costs.
Digital courseware, on the other hand, will have to develop content from scratch. You don’t have any ready material which you can just convert using a software or tool. Everything will need to be planned and created from zero which can be a laborious task.
Converting textbooks to eBooks is a simple process. You already have the material and just need to convert it into electronic form. As a result, the whole process is cost-effective and doesn’t require publishers to invest too much for the conversion.
Developing digital courseware is a much costlier process compared to converting textbooks into eBooks. You need to create the material, make use of instructional design and create a platform for the delivery of the courseware. It’s imperative that the publishers will need to invest a considerable amount for the whole process which will be much higher than just converting materials to digital forms.
We also have to consider the cost that students and institutions need to incur in order to get the materials. eBooks generally cost 50% to 60% less than traditional printed books and can be much better options for students and colleges as they offer cost-effectiveness. You also don’t need special delivery software or a platform which significantly reduces the cost.
The creation and delivery of digital courseware, on the other hand, is a multifaceted process and can cost more than availing eBooks. You will have to account for the creation of material, development of delivery platforms and other elements which will inevitably increase the cost of acquisition.
The time taken to develop learning material is also another important consideration. While converting printed textbooks to eBooks, you have to convert each page of the book to electronic format.
The process will take up considerable time and effort even when someone uses an automated conversion technology like optical character recognition (OCR). The technologies are helpful, but not always a hundred percent accurate, which leaves room for errors. That means you may need to spend additional time to correct mistakes manually.
Digital courseware trumps ePub when it comes to time savings. Here you don’t need to convert anything and everything is created from scratch. Digital courseware developers have their own tools and technology which helps you create materials in less time than converting printed textbooks to digital formats.
The companies have created workflows and set up processes that help them do more in less time with the help of technology.
4. Interactivity and Engagement
It’s not only engaged employees who perform better; but also engaged students who learn better! Research has shown time and again that students who are engaged fare much better than those who are withdrawn or disengaged. Many studies have found a positive correlation between engagement and improved performance.
Student engagement is defined as increased attention to the area of learning, active participation and increased time spent on activities. The correlations are visible across all levels of instruction, subject matter and educational activities. The modern shift in education also puts emphasis on personalization and engagement for improved learning outcomes.
Digital learning materials are ideal to create engagement, interactivity and personalization. That being said, digital courseware is much more flexible than eBooks when it comes to integrating interactivity or collaborative efforts. For example, you can easily design digital courseware with gamification, simulation and other activities to encourage engagement and learning.
eBooks till a certain point of time have been considered as only the digital version of printed books. But gradually, various publishers have made an effort to integrate interactive features like videos, exercises, animations and other features in eBooks to make them more engaging and compelling. Now you can create media-rich ePubs with text highlights, audio narration, charts and more.
Interactive eBooks have been used mainly for supplementary and reference books and very few interactive e-textbooks exist, raising questions on scalability. Moreover, the use of interactive eBooks in higher education is still in a nascent stage with very less titles available. We can say that digital courseware is more suited for interactive purposes because of its flexibility and mode of delivery.
5. Personalization of Learning
It’s a well-known fact that one size doesn’t fit all, especially when it comes to education. Technology can help educators to tailor the learning experience for individual students, help weak kids master core skills and enable students to learn at their own pace.
Digital learning materials offer the potential to personalize learning for effective learning. In this respect, digital courseware is more suited for personalization compared to eBooks.
In the case of digital courseware, you can customize the content, edit at will and deliver content on-demand basis when the student is ready to progress. eBooks offer fewer personalization options as they are not readily editable and cannot be tailored based on the unique needs of the learner.
6. Learning Curve
The learning curve is involved in anything we encounter or use for the first time. Going by this approach, eBooks and digital courseware will also come with a learning curve for both students and teachers.
Digital courseware is developed as software that acts as a standalone product or uses learning management systems for delivery. Students and professors alike may need some time to get used to the software and have to go through a learning curve.
eBooks, on the other hand, don’t come with any significant learning curve. Anyone who has basic computer skills can access and use an eBook without any hindrances.
7. Analytics and Assessment
The traditional education system lacks the ability to gauge the competence of students precisely. Digital courseware can help educators get a better understanding of their students by monitoring their learning, activities and other aspects automatically.
eBooks don’t have such convenience and you have to depend on assessments and assignments. Unless eBooks use a delivery software like digital courseware, you cannot set it up to collect analytics or feedback to improve learning outcomes. However, it’s possible with delivery platforms like KITABOO.
Digital Learning Material is the Future of Higher Ed
According to Pearson, 88% students own laptops, 85% use smartphones and 50% own tablets. It’s beyond any doubt that the future of higher education will see an increased use of digital materials, whether it’s eBooks or digital courseware.
Going by the trends, we may encounter a combination of eBooks and digital courseware in higher education for the effective delivery of learning. Only time will tell which one becomes more popular, but both have the potential to bring a huge transformation to traditional higher education making it effective and interactive for the students.
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