Higher education publishers and digital learning companies are helping to solve this problem with personalized learning technologies that improve students’ academic performance and allow them to complete their college degrees on time.

Moving beyond the textbook

Over the past decade, publishers and digital learning companies have been redefining the concept of textbooks and course materials through content and technology innovations. They’ve developed for students a new generation of digital learning platforms that use personalized adaptive learning to help assess where a student is proficient and where he or she needs improvement. Succeeding in coursework makes graduation much more likely.

Used on virtually any device, including a laptop, tablet or smartphone, content is presented in more engaging ways and includes personalized interactive activities such as quizzes, tests and games. These quizzes employ artificial intelligence to focus on those areas where the student is weakest. Results are then forwarded to the professor in real time. These platforms can also be bundled with a digital or hardcopy textbook or paired with open educational resources. And it costs just a fraction of the price of a print textbook.

Results are impressive

The effectiveness of these new products has been proven time and again. Various independent studies have shown that students using the digital learning platform performed anywhere from 30 to 80 percent better than those using conventional textbooks alone. One study found that many students using the digital learning platform increased grades by one full letter—B students earned As and C students earned Bs. Additionally, use of a digital platform in six separate courses reduced institutional costs between 10 percent and 35 percent. If these rates of improvement were replicated on a campus wide basis and then extended across the country, significant progress could be made in getting more young adults to graduate.

"Students using the digital learning platform performed anywhere from 30 to 80 percent better than those using conventional textbooks alone."

Pricing perspective

It’s often said that higher education textbooks are a financial burden on students. But it’s important to recognize that the high price of tuition, room and board is also quite costly and the price of course materials is just one part of the total. According to Student Monitor, which provides market research for the college student market, spending on printed textbooks has declined by 31 percent, and spending across all formats (including e-textbooks and rentals) has declined by 17 percent since spring of 2010. Publishers have made great efforts to bring low cost alternatives to market.

Keeping students in school

When students leave college without obtaining a degree, the economic impact on students, parents, taxpayers and society is substantial. Because of their reduced earning potential—often about $1 million less over the course of a lifetime—students who borrow to attend college and do not graduate are likely to struggle with a higher debt burden. According to the American Institutes for Research, for students entering college in 2002 who failed to graduate in six years, $3.8 billion was lost in income, $566 million was lost in federal income tax and $164 million was lost in state income tax.

With these advanced learning platforms from publishers and digital learning companies, colleges and universities have seen great advances in student performance. A college participating in one study saw graduation rates improve by 12.5 percent, while retention rates increased by 10.5 percent.

The future

While still a new technological advancement, these digital learning platforms are being used by about 20 percent of all college and university faculty, and the vast majority is interested in learning more, according to the Book Industry Study Group (BISG). BISG also reported that large segments of faculty do not believe they have the training to use these technologies properly, and about half believe they lack the time to redesign their courses to use the new technology. Publishers have responded by providing faculty with training and assistance in restructuring course plans.

These platforms also allow faculty to communicate with students, monitor their progress and make it easy to supplement or modify a course to enhance their students’ learning experience. It is clear that publishers, policymakers, academics and administrators must continue working together to find the best technologies and adopt them in ways that ensure we both maximize student success and cost savings.