Are textbooks obsolete?


For many years, textbooks became an essential part of the educational fabric that shapes every classroom. From middle school to college, these books have become synonymous with higher learning. However, the times appear to be changing. Why does it appear that books are no longer popular to be used in a classroom?

It has gotten to the point where books in college are being described as “outdated”. The downfall of the textbook has been predicted frequently by major conglomerates. One of which is the CEO of Cengage, Michael Hansen. He stated that the education industry contributes to the lack of affordable access to higher learning and that outdated textbook models have contributed to why books have been unpopular.

The lack of affordable access that is being referred to is related directly to the increasing expenses of books which do not coincide with a student’s budget. Combined with the cost of tuition, room, and board and other expenses, the average cost of textbooks for a college student. According to a recent study by the College Board showed that the average student can expect to spend $1,200 annually on books. Approximately 5.2 million students have also used loans just to purchase books that they require.

In addition, according to an NBC review of Bureau of Labour Statistics, the prices of textbooks have increased by 1,041% since 1977. Naturally, it would make sense that with the rising costs of books, the use of those same books would decrease.

The cost of books can be somewhat circumvented by buying used textbooks. Some of the benefits of used textbooks include:

  • Cheaper costs
  • Quicker shipping
  • Saves time for studying

There is great value for those who opt to buy the used variety, but even though used textbooks are typically cheaper than their expensive, new counterparts, they can still be on the pricier side depending on the book. This sentiment of books being too expensive is even shared by professors, as a survey from Professor Pulse Survey showed that 90 percent of professors think that the costs of books are far too high.

Another prominent reason as to why the use of books appear to become more and more obsolete is because of the readily available information at everyone’s disposal on the Internet. While a textbook may contain valuable information, there is a good chance that the information embedded within the text can also be found with a simple Google search. There are many who view going through a book as a mundane task. Simply looking for the information online has proven to be effortless and more convenient.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation wrote a letter highlighting the concerns about the textbook and why a digital movement should be embraced. The key points in that letter were that books are no longer able to serve their purpose, and instead only serve as a burden both financially and academically. The purpose of the textbook is to accurately relay information that is presented in the course. The problem is that nobody comes close to having read the entire text. In that same Professor Pulse survey, only 30 percent of the professors stated that the majority of their class reads the textbook. This is primarily because more and more students are utilizing the “path of least resistance”. This means that students are more liable to use the cellphone that is always on their person as opposed to forage through a sizable textbook that they may not always have.

It also does not help that there is mounting evidence to support digital learning. The primary benefit actually goes towards the professors. This is because a traditional textbook requires teachers to stay exactly on script with little room for variation by proxy. However, a digital textbook can provide students with questions that can provide immediate feedback on what areas students are weak and where they are strong.

The movement to digital learning is a gradual one because there remains tremendous value in the traditional textbook. Primarily, this comes in the form of many people feeling more comfortable with reading as opposed to taking digital notes. It also may be more effective to have a traditional textbook for the sake of taking copious notes that one could remember before an exam. However, it is safe to say that there is a movement arising that can make books fully obsolete altogether.

The textbook industry is one that takes in approximately worth 7 to 10 billion dollars. However, between the skyrocketing costs and the convenience of utilizing modern-day technology, it is no secret as to why many are transitioning to the digital variety.

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