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Revolutionizing textbooks: the iPad and e-textbooks

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Advantages of e-textbooks

That good quality textbooks that can be displayed on iPads and other devices can promote learning is a no brainer.

There is a well established link between multimedia and learning:

  • learning is more effective when promoted through both verbal and visual media, according to dual coding theory;
  • multimedia allows for interactivity, and for the learner to be tested on what he has learnt in a sort of "conversation" between learner and materials;
  • some systems, such as the cell membrane, are by their nature dynamic, and therefore best suited to a fluid graphic treatment;
  • through exciting graphic and video materials, students become motivated and immersed in the learning, with better results.

See papers from the Fourth IEEE International Workshop on Multimedia Technologies for E-learning (held in San Diego, California in December 2009) in a special issue of .

In addition, whereas print textbooks are cumbersome to update, e-textbooks can be updated "on the fly", thereby allowing students access to the latest research.

Another significant advantage is weight: physical textbooks are very heavy to cart around, whereas for e-textbooks all you need is your iPad or other device.

One blogger had this to say about reading textbooks on tablets (Wulfhart, 2012):

Receiving instant downloads of the latest research and studies, for example, or exploring interactive 3-D models of the human nervous system, or zooming in to examine Van Gogh’s brushstrokes up close – these are just three of the most basic applications of the e-textbook format.

With the publisher saving on production and distribution costs into the bargain, what’s not to like about the new born-digital textbooks?

One significant disadvantage is that the majority are linked to the iPad, which is still relatively expensive, starting as it does at $399. 

However, a recent study by the Pearson Foundation (Pearson Foundation, 2012) showed a dramatic increase in iPad ownership over the previous year: at 25 per cent of college students, it had tripled over 2011’s seven per cent.

It also revealed that a majority of college and high school students (over 60 per cent) believed that tablets would replace textbooks over the next five years.

This is in marked contrast to their 2011 survey, where students, although clearly valuing tablets (to a greater extent than the Kindle) for educational purposes, showed little interest in digital textbooks (Kiley, 2011).

A case of a market maturing? Maybe, but this should still be seen in a global context. Despite well-advertised poverty, the US is still a relatively wealthy country. Can the iPad be seen as a solution to distance learning in the poorer countries of Africa, for example?

On the other hand, tablet ownership is growing at a considerable rate across emerging economies as it is in the developed world, according to a report by Accenture (2012).