News & Opinion | August 5, 2019 6:26 am

College Textbooks Are Increasingly Being Replaced by Apps and E-Readers

Why read when you can have an AI study assistant that gives you feedback in real time?

college textbooks
New data shows audiences tend to prefer the original source material over on-screen adaptations
Iñaki del Olmo / Unsplash

Remember those college professors who made you buy a $300 textbook written by … them? Remember opening that book a handful of times throughout the semester and then selling them back to the bookstore for pennies on the dollar? Thankfully, those days may finally be numbered.

Textbook rental services from companies like Chegg and Amazon have made renting — rather than buying — textbooks an easier, more affordable endeavor in recent years. As a result, textbook giant Pearson has seen plummeting sales, going from $2 billion in revenue in 2013 to just $1.3 billion last year, Vox reported. To fight the changing tides, the manufacturer is set to begin renting digital textbooks this year ranging from $40-$80, as well as launching a collection of apps that autocorrects calculus homework using A.I. software. 

“There’s something like 100 different concepts that you have to master in introductory calculus,” John Fallon, CEO of Pearson, told Vox’s Kara Swisher on the Recode Decode podcast. “If you’re designing your textbook or a lecturer designing your course, you teach those 100 concepts in a linear way, building on one another, which is the only rational way you can teach something when you’re trying to do it to large numbers of people. This enables us to then also teach them in a nonlinear way, which means it’s personal and adapts it to you.”

In addition to real-time math corrections, the apps will have the ability to pinpoint which areas students need to study more, and will be able to automatically suggest study tricks, show video clips and connect students to classmates who excel in the topic.

“It can provide individual feedback to the student,” Fallon added. “Actually, the classmate will learn as well, because we learn by teaching others what we know.”

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