It is happening: iPads and eBook readers are replacing paper-based textbooks. In news reports of the last day or two, schools in Clearwater, Florida and the Park Hills District in Missouri have either converted their textbooks to e-books, or are about it. This story has been recurring all around the country for weeks and months now.
The move is smart, and inevitable. The convenience is obvious. The money saved in the expense of paper-based textbooks should cover the expense and leave a budget surplus. Some initial reports indicate that the reduced expense of e-books is only 20 percent, but with many ereaders costingly a mere $100 or $200, that number works.
But the business model has yet to play out. How will digital textbooks be distributed?
- Will students purchase and download them to their e-reader? If so, will they sell “used” textbooks as they do now with paper-based textbooks?
- Will students rent textbooks? Yesterday it was reported that eCampus just sent a record in January for most textbooks rented.
- Will digital textbooks be retained on websites and read in real time via the web? There are already technology-book subscription-based services doing this.
So what is the best way to distribute digital textbooks? The answer remains to be seen.
But there’s more … an ereader is a small computer, and an iPad extends the capabilities of an ereader considerably. Soon students could use a single thin electronic device to contain textbooks, online interactive examination testing engines, interactive real-time video-based Skype-style communication with instructors and other students to support tutoring, group projects, student networking, and more – all of which can be used as a supplement to instructor-led training as well as a key platform on which distance learning can be delivered.
The iPad is only the beginning. The revolution of learning is well under way, and we have a very long way to go.