Published on 2013/10/10

The Future of eBooks in Adult Education Programs

The Future of eBooks in Adult Education Programs
As the number of adult students in higher education grows, institutions might want to give eTextbooks a closer look.

While eTextbooks are not a new concept, there has been some buzz over the last few years regarding their use in higher education. With new and improved tablets on the market (Apple iPad, Google Tablets and Microsoft Surface, to name a few), there is a greater case for the integration of eTextbooks in the classroom. Research completed in 2008 showed partnerships between Kindle, an eReader, and some major textbook publishers, as well as partnerships between Kindle, Sony and a handful of schools. Oddly enough there has been little research since 2009 on this topic, but with new tablets and expanded services provided by companies like CourseSmart, colleges with adult programs may want to give eTextbooks a second thought.

In the earlier studies, students had mixed reactions to the devices and provided many pros and cons. In most cases, these eReaders (Kindle/Sony) were not compatible with the hard sciences because they did not provide rich, colored diagrams. Other complaints included difficulty in note taking, the lack of visual appeal, price point and battery life. These concerns have been addressed by the significant advances in tablet technology over the past five years.

Additionally, while the above studies were based on the responses of traditional (18 to 22-year-old) students, one publication pointed out that the use of eReader technology was not a generational issue but a physical one. According to Sottong, most people “will not read lengthy, linear texts on fixed monitors,” even if they are portable. Data contradicts this, though.

Between 2009 and 2011, eReader sales increased by 83 percent and Kindle sales demographics point out that more than 74 percent of Kindle owners are between the ages of 30 and 70. This is a clear indication adults seem to be receptive to using tablets and are just as equipped for eTextbooks as traditional-aged students.

This shines a light on the fact that perhaps the best population for a pilot on eTextbooks would be adult learners.

Imagine a cohort of adult learners starting a program together but, instead of having to purchase multiple books throughout their program, they receive one tablet with all of their textbooks preloaded. These students would receive training on how to use their tablet. The cost would be packaged into their program price and they would get to keep the tablet after program completion. Not only would there be considerable costs savings, but there would also be environmental benefits.

While there is still much to consider, the use of eTextbooks in adult programs is a real possibility.

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Sherry Sontag, “The eReader Experience: An Inside Look at the Leading eBook Readers in Action,”, July/August 2008.

Stephen Sottong, “The elusive e-book: Are e-books finally ready for prime time?” American Libraries Vol 39 (5), May, 2008, p. 44-48

Jeffrey Young, “This could be the year of eTextbooks,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 7, 2009. Accessed at

Jeffrey Young, “Tablet may help e-textbook market: Publishers hope,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 31, 2010. Accessed at

“Kindle Demographics,” Kindle Culture, April 29, 2009. Accessed at

CNET “Shipments of eBook readers worldwide from 2008 to 2016 (in million units),” December 2012. Accessed at

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Readers Comments

Francis Beyer 2013/10/10 at 8:31 am

eTextbooks are conducive to the busy, on-the-go lifestyles that many adult students have. For example, being able to load a textbook on an eReader to take on the subway commute is incredibly useful. For this reason, I think audio books could also catch on (for adults who drive to work and want to study in the car). Technologies that give adult students easier access to course material should be explored.

Evan Duff 2013/10/10 at 1:24 pm

Good point Francis. I could see audiobooks very useful in literature courses and courses that have supplemental mainstream books that you would find in Barnes and Noble.

Melanie Khan 2013/10/10 at 3:36 pm

To date, I’ve only seen private institutions use eReaders for adult students, and this more as a gimmick than with the intention of improving access to course materials. I hope this is an idea more institutions grow to adopt. I’m not sure it would necessarily lower the cost of education, as any savings on paper textbooks would likely be swallowed up by whatever fee an institution charged at enrollment to cover the cost of the eReader and eTextbooks. The benefit — easy, on-the-go access — makes it a worthwhile idea to consider.

Susan Long 2013/10/14 at 7:25 pm

I would love eReaders for my textbooks. I live in FL and teach in GA so I have to lug very heavy books back and forth. An eBook would be a blessing. However, if I didn’t have an iPad or similar device, I would find it awkward to use my laptop for lectures while trying to also dig through the texts for the assignments/problems. But, it is possible. eTexts shouldn’t cost as much as paper texts. I know they currently do, but they shouldn’t.

Evan Duff 2013/10/17 at 9:34 am

I think the cost can be lowered if students consider etextbook rentals vs. purchases. Also, many publishers are now using portals to deliver class content like WileyPlus. If students purchase the access code they automatically get access to the full etextbook, chapter powerpoints and a wealth of other resources.

John P. Wheeler 2014/01/27 at 5:04 am

I personally think that ebooks would be perfect for adult education programs. Students wouldn’t be forced to carry around ridiculous amounts of books and learning would be more conducive because all the information they need would already be at their fingertips. It’s just a matter of finding means that would be affordable to the majority.

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