Studies Show Digital Course Materials Improve Students’ Performance

AAP, books, ebooks, sales, publishersDigital textbooks are helping college students get higher grades and learn better, according to several new studies reported on by the Association of American Publishers (AAP).

One study that followed students using Pearson’s digital learning platform for a two-semester Anatomy and Physiology course found that there was a 13-percentage-point improvement in students earning an A, B or C for the first semester when using digital materials, compared to students who did not use a digital platform. For the second semester, that increase went up to 27 percentage points.

Another study, a collaboration between W. W. Norton and Dustin Tingley of the Learning Research Group at Harvard, found that students using InQuizitive, an adaptive quizzing tool from the publisher, for an Intro to American Government class had an 8.4-point increase when they completed an InQuizitive activity prior to taking a summative quiz. This improvement increased by 13.1 points for students who used InQuizitive as part of their course.

A third study, by McGraw-Hill Education, followed nine instructors across 16 disciplines and found that 15 percent more students earned As and Bs when using digital materials compared to students who did not use these materials.

“Education publishers and learning companies have heard college students loud and clear and are offering them more of what they want—more affordable materials without sacrificing high quality content,” said David E. Anderson, executive director of higher education at the AAP. “Publishers are able to do that, in large part, because of this transition to interactive and engaging digital materials. In addition to paying less, students are also getting better grades, passing more classes, and graduating on time.”

Digital learning materials can offer benefits over their print counterparts, including a typically lower price, unique features like adaptive quizzes, practice activities, animations, simulations, calendar functions and gradebooks, and the ability for professors to customize lectures based on class progress and quickly update materials with new information.

Perhaps the most beneficial feature of digital learning materials is their adaptability, as they are personalized to each student and can provide more immediate feedback.

The AAP cited a study from the National Center for Education Statistics that found that only about 60 percent of college students seeking a bachelor’s degree at a four-year institution in fall 2008 actually earned one. Digital learning materials, according to the AAP, help address some of the reasons these students drop out of school, including workload, preparation for class and lack of advising.

Independent research firm Student Monitor conducted studies that show that an increasing number of students are incorporating digital learning materials. In spring 2016, according to Student Monitor, the share of students purchasing digital course materials for unlimited use increased 63 percent while the number of students renting a digital textbook increased 100 percent, compared to the previous spring.

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3 thoughts on “Studies Show Digital Course Materials Improve Students’ Performance

  1. Michael W. Perry

    Anatomy and physiology tools, if done well, are ideal for digital technology. Physics, astronomy, and chemistry might also benefit. But there’s a host of other areas, such as literature, where digital tools might do more harm than good.

    I’d also make a distinction between apps and textbooks. Apps let users manipulate the object being studied. Sold to a mass market, they’d be inexpensive for students to buy. I’d be wary, however, of linking a publisher-specific app to a specific textbook and forcing students buy both at the typically inflated price of college textbooks.

    Excuse me if I seem a bit skeptical that educational publisher really want to bring down the cost of textbooks. A visit to any college bookstore feeds that skepticism.

  2. Linda Wong

    Interestingly, the article discusses “digital course materials,” with little discussion about an all-digital approach without printed textbooks. Quizzes, lectures, flash cards, notes, and video clips certainly can enhance learning if theses digital course materials are well-done. However, do reading comprehension and retention of content improve with an all-digital approach? I do believe as a cost-saving strategy, publishers prefer all-digital publishing to eliminate cost of printed textbooks, shipping, and distribution expenses.



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