Looking back: eTextbooks in 2018

by Vanessa Boddington, Marketing Director EMEA and Asia, VitalSource

2018 has been an interesting year to work in the digital publishing space. Stakeholders in the sector have continued their goals to make higher education more effective, and this year the sector has taken further steps towards this goal. We have seen the latest technology used to help lecturers better understand their students and the sector has come together to tackle important questions around accessibility and learning gain.

eTextbooks continue to provide an important piece in the puzzle, with three areas worthy of a particular mention:

  1. Measuring learning gain

In 2014, a series of learning gain projects involving 70 universities across the UK began, with the aim of evaluating different ways of measuring learning gain in higher education. Learning gain is complex and far-ranging, and will be an important measure used by students deciding which university to attend. It also provides a tool for regulators and employers to assess the institutions that are delivering to standard and those that are falling short. In December 2018, the pilot projects draw to a close as the universities involved begin the task of presenting their conclusions.

From initial findings it’s clear that technology is a really vital component both in measuring and supporting learning gain. Research this year carried out by VitalSource found that 66% students said they study more effectively with eTextbooks, while 89% said eTextbooks integrated into their course had a positive impact on their learning. It’s exciting to see how attempts to better measure learning gain will develop in the new year, as the sector continues to strive for the best way to answer this tricky and pertinent question.

  1. Improving accessibility

Often the problem with ‘accessibility’ is that it can mean lots of different things to lots of different people. In the context of education technology, it’s best to define it as making sure the same content is equally available across all platforms and channels, to all students regardless of ability. The difficulties for students in accessing the right course materials often means university is not the level playing-field it ought to be, where ability is allowed to shine. Digital learning materials can play a really important role in helping to address imbalances right at the beginning of a student’s time in higher education.

From initial findings it’s clear that technology is a really vital component both in measuring and supporting learning gain.

It’s crucial to ensure we provide the best possible access for students with disabilities. At the beginning of this year, the industry came together for the Jisc Aspire National Audit which reviewed over 580 digital content websites and platforms. The objective was to determine levels of support for accessibility, along with the availability and quality of information related to disability provided on products. The results were encouraging but revealed that we still have lots of work to do as an industry to help ensure accessibility remains a core concern for the higher education sector.

  1. Employing data analytics

In higher education, it’s important we always look to provide lecturers with the greatest amount of insight when it comes to the progress of their students. Too often we see students slip through the net, when more often than not the cause is a problem that can be addressed. Traditional textbooks provide lecturers with very little understanding of usage and no means for measuring how much students are engaging with course materials. This has been a long-standing problem.

2018 has been an important year for eTextbooks when it comes to harnessing the very latest and cutting-edge in analytics technology. Analytics provide lecturers with a much richer level of detail than would ever be otherwise possible, allowing them to track how often students have engaged with materials, identifying problem areas and finding solutions.

With data analytics, lecturers have the tools to tailor their students’ learning and identify those students in danger of slipping through the net. As such, eTextbooks can more than ever drive higher levels of engagement, further progression and improve outcomes.

Looking ahead to 2019

The education technology sector has taken some positive steps forward in 2018, but technology holds so much potential for higher education. It can give both students and lecturers more control and insight in their study, and it can also improve access in university, whether that be in reducing costs or providing better tools for students with disabilities.