Don't be Seduced by the Data

As a college professor who has watched textbook prices increase at rates greater than inflation for several years, I am very interested in alternatives to delivering vital content without costing a small fortune. Digital textbooks in particular seem to hold great potential as technology improves to deliver content to tablets and smartphones and prices of e-readers decrease. The combination of high prices for print books and development of digital formats would appear to set the stage for a textbook revolution. In fact, there are data to suggest that is the case.

A recent survey of college students sponsored by Kno Inc., an educational software firm, provided an eye-popping statistic about their willingness to adopt digital textbooks: 25% said they would give up sex for a year in exchange for never having to carry bulky textbooks around campus. Whoa! Time to usher in the era of digital textbooks; a significant segment of the textbook buying market has indicated a high level of interest in being able to shift to digital books. Not so fast- all we know at this point is that some students would rather exert less effort on carrying textbooks than having sex.

The findings on college students’ views on print and digital textbooks do not quite match with reality. Despite being available for several years, digital textbooks have yet to be adopted on a wide scale. Digital books’ share of the textbook market is below 10%. Furthermore, only about 2 in 10 college students currently own an e-reader, which is a limitation on mass adoption of digital books. It is possible that digital textbook sales will take off. Personally, I am hopeful that the quality of the digital product will continue to improve and be able to offer students an enhanced learning experience at a good value.

Don’t be seduced by the data; examine research findings critically to evaluate the extent to which consumers’ intentions mirror reality. A gap often exists between what people say they will do and their actions. In the case of the textbook study, I can understand why students would express a desire to not have to tote clunky textbooks on their backs if alternatives were available. But, realities such as inferior digital offerings and lack of owning needed hardware like a tablet or e-reader means that most students will maintain status quo. When data give great hope, cautiously embrace the opportunity. However, seeing is believing; so watch out for data that portrays a mismatch between stated intentions and actual behavior.

eCampus News: "'Sex vs. Textbooks' Survey Doesn’t Jibe with Student Preferences"

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