Is There a Future for Textbooks in Education?

· June 11, 2019
Technology has changed the paradigm with which students maximize their academic capacities. In this article, we'll take advantage of the opportunity to analyze the viability of using textbooks in education.

Modern technology has advanced worldwide and, inevitably, these advances have made their way into the classroom. We’ve come to the point where many teachers, education professionals and parents are all asking themselves the same question: Is there a future for textbooks in education?

Textbooks have accompanied students of countless generations, from the past up to the present. They’re one of the most present and useful educational tools in school classrooms around the world. However, the reality is that they’re becoming less and less common, due to the growing availability of digital materials.

In this sense, technology has created another scenario in which digital tablets appear as an alternative to the long-lived textbook. Of course, there are many nostalgics who oppose this paradigm shift. Nevertheless, it seems like this is part of a natural process that can’t be stopped.

To help you decide, we can observe a study carried out in 2016 at the University of Maryland. Researchers asked 90 students to read brief informative texts, in print as well as a digital version. The participants performed equally when describing the main ideas of the passage, regardless of the medium. 

However, when asked to list additional points and recall more details, the readers of printed text held an advantage. What else can we add regarding this debate?

Advantages for the continued use of textbooks in education

1. Information is easier to find

You might believe the opposite to be true, given the speed and vastness of the internet. However, textbooks allow students to find information easily because, in general, their content is very detailed and they include an index. 

If well designed, students can use them to quickly locate the precise information they’re looking for. Textbooks also offer students more structure and organization when it comes to learning.

2. Textbooks make things simpler for teachers

There are also advantages for teachers when it comes to using textbooks. For young teachers, textbooks can be especially useful because the material and the structures of lessons tend to be very detailed. This means they don’t have to put in a lot of time coming up with new ideas for lesson plans.

Is There a Future for Textbooks in Education?

3. Increased comfort while working

Most electronic books come equipped with a small army of tools that allow students to make marks and take notes. However, students aren’t often used to using digital tablets in class. Most still prefer using printed books where they can highlight and make notes in the margins.

“Textbooks allow students to find information easily because, in general, their content is very detailed and they include an index. If well designed, students can use them to quickly locate the precise information they’re looking for.”

Weak points when it comes to textbooks in education

The first disadvantage when it comes to textbooks in education is the weight that students must carry on their backs to and from school. A child carrying a backpack full of books is the typical post card image for schools and academic institutions. However, this burden could be avoided through the implantation of technology.

Another negative aspect of textbooks is their shelf life. While it’s true that some families pass textbooks onto younger siblings or friends, most textbooks are abandoned once they’ve been used.

Reasons for opting for technology

1. Promotes creativity

The convenient format of tablets encourages creativity. It’s a place where students can draw, compose music or create movies without a need for additional tools. Therefore, students can discover and develop their creative abilities instead of being simple passive receivers of knowledge.

2. Easy to use

There’s no denying that tablets are much more intuitive and easy to use than desktop computers and laptops. Furthermore, most children are already used to using them.

3. Direct communication

Another benefit of technology in the classroom is direct communication. Tablets connect everyone involved: students, parents and teachers. Grades, homework and class notes written by hand are easy to lose – whether intentionally or by accident.

This never happens with digital data. Any comment that includes critique, congratulations or doubts will be available for future reference when needed.

Is There a Future for Textbooks in Education?

Disadvantages of technology in the classroom

The first disadvantage of introducing technology in the classroom has to do with the impact that tablet use can have on children. In fact, it can actually cause them to become too distracted. This distraction can have to do with games, videos and countless applications that these devices include.

In second place, unlike with printed materials, digital texts remain on the tablet and don’t move from there. This means that classmates and siblings can’t share books.

Lastly, you should know that, for many students, the use of electronic books isn’t a question of preference or price, but of availability. Usually, the books that students need for school simply aren’t available in digital format.

In conclusion, we’re dealing with an issue on which not everyone is in agreement. However, it’s clear that we’re in the midst of a transition period that brings us to think more and more about the presence of technology in schools.