Students Value Efficiency and Effectiveness in Digital Content

BISG higher education digital content students52% of higher education students who responded to a recent Book Industry Study Group (BISG) survey agreed with this statement: “I would rather pay $100 for a learning solution that improves my result by one letter grade and reduces my study time by 25% than $50 for my current textbook.”

According to Nadine Vassallo, BISG’s Project Manager for Research and Information who presented some of those findings at the organization’s “Adapt, Learn, Innovate” conference on higher education in New York City this morning, that’s a sign of opportunity for publishers.

BISG’s research covers five years of survey data on students at two- and four-year public and private institutions. This year’s sample of some 1,600 students confirms a trend Vassallo called the “decline of the core textbook as the essential component of higher education content.”

That development is driven overwhelmingly by concern about the high cost of textbooks. 87% of the students in BISG’s study say price is at least somewhat important in guiding their buying decisions, while only 27% feel current textbook prices are reasonable given their value.

So it’s no surprise that what Vassallo delicately termed “illicit acquisition behaviors” have risen sharply over the past few years, as more students turn to pirate websites, photocopying and downloading copies of course materials from other students—which became the leading illicit acquisition behavior for the first time this year.

As students’ dissatisfaction with textbook prices grow, so do their perceptions about what course materials are absolutely necessary. A growing share of students—28% in the latest study—say their textbooks are only “recommended” rather than “required” by instructors.

And with their immediate perceived value to coursework diminishing, textbooks’ lasting (or at least resale) value appears to be doing the same. More students in the BISG survey report renting their textbooks than buying them—37% to 31%, respectively.

But so far digital is no great panacea.

Vassallo points out that students still prefer print (a preference that Pew researchers found held up among millennials in leisure contexts as well). A solid 50% do, compared with the 16% who favor digital and the 29% who want a combination of both.

Related: Why Readers Still Want Print

This last, hybridized area is where BISG has charted the strongest growth in recent years. 52% of students who say they’ve used some form of digital educational content were satisfied by it overall, with features and design ranking more highly than interactive capabilities like note-taking.

But the advantages of those materials simply differed from those of print, rather than eclipsed them. It seems likely that digital’s place in the higher education ecosystem will rest on how well new formats can complement print ones in delivering strong learning outcomes.

And if the statistic cited at the very top of this post is any indication, those digital solutions may not even need to be cheaper than textbooks as long as they’re seen as more valuable than them.

Complete findings from the report based on BISG’s latest research, Student Attitudes Toward Content in Higher Education, are available here.


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