Saturday, August 10, 2013

Will "Digital textbook" be the "MOOC" of 2014?

MOOC was the buzzword of the year 2013.  MOOCs can potentially replace some of the redundancy in higher education and thus save money.  Clearly there are problems with MOOCs but used appropriately they have value.

Another area in education that is ripe for disruption is the textbook market.  The publishers charge exorbitant prices for content that may not change much over many years and many editions.

Take an example of a pretty expensive textbook:
This book costs over $100 on Amazon and even the Kindle eBook version costs over $80.  There are other options e.g. renting the book, getting a used book or a loose leaf version of the book.  I just selected this book at random so I can compare its price across various platforms, there are many similar very expensive books covering other topics like history which don't change very much.  So why do these books cost so much?

There are so many free online resources that could be used instead of these books.  The problem is that teachers would have to spend a lot of time reviewing the content for appropriateness and accuracy and then monitor that this content as it changes.  In addition, one would assume that the book organizes the content in some pedagogically appropriate manner which is worth something.

Enter Boundless - this is potentially a disruptive innovation that overcomes this problem.  Boundless provides alternative textbooks that match the content of these traditional books but uses open source material for the content.  Boundless has been reviewed at several places like TIME and INSIDE HIGER ED.
The alternative to this same textbook costs a flat $20 on Boundless.  There are also other books on Algebra that are free if you do not want flashcards and quizzes.

The challenge that this model needs to overcome:
  1. Getting students and teachers comfortable with eBooks
  2. Ensuring the quality/accuracy of the content
  3. Legal issues - Boundless is currently being sued by some publishers over copyrights - schools and colleges would not like to adopt this while there is uncertainty about this.
We wish Boundless all the best in overcoming these challenges.  The commercial textbook market is ripe for disruption and it should happen sooner rather than later.