All higher education textbooks and course content are different, and with so many options to choose from in today’s textbook publishing space, it is important to ensure the choice you make for your institution is a seamless and rewarding process. Textbooks and other digital course materials should be straightforward to implement and accessible to students – otherwise learners will not get what they need out of it.

Here are some factors to consider when evaluating new course content for your class or department.


The big idea behind the renaissance of textbooks in the digital age is their timelessness. A “digital” textbook created by large publishing houses that are still stuck in the lengthy two- to three-year content review cycle have not actually created a new, marketing-disrupting content offering, rather they have used a new medium without updating their methods.

However, more than 70 percent of higher education textbook publishers release a new edition of the same course content every three or four years. New editions have driven up revenues for large publishers like McGraw Hill, Pearson and Cengage, as these new editions are released at a significant premium to the previous versions (a 60 percent price difference).

In the age of the internet, information is constantly changing and with it all accessible at the click of a button, digital textbooks ought to be up to date with the most recent information. Today’s college students are members of Gen Z and are digital natives, who are accustomed to the rapid pace of growth that the internet provides. Digital course content can dispense entirely with the need for pricey new editions and can be kept current with up-to-date information, all on students devices.


According to the College Board, (a not-for-profit organization that aims to improve access to higher ed), the average student studying at an American college or university spends approximately $1,200 a year on course materials. More than 5 million students have used their loans to purchase textbooks. Cost is a growing barrier that is keeping students out of higher education institutions and hinders their success if they do get there.

However, one-off textbook costs aren’t the only things to think about. Digital-only textbooks might be cheaper, but eliminate the secondary market, where students resell their course materials to other students enrolled in the same course at the start of the following semester. Extra costs for specific features within a textbook may be embedded as well, with separate fees for lecture slides or test and assessment questions that are critical for learning but are hidden in product promotional materials.

It is important to check what features are included and which are added on for an additional price following purchase of the core product offering. The best course materials are the ones that offer end-to-end course solutions, while still customizable for a professor to tailor to their course and update the content as they see fit.

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Visuals and Interactivity

However, text and images alone can only do so much—they cannot track how students are learning and what they are comprehending, and they do not convey feedback to professors about which course concepts need further clarification and practice questions.

Visualizations can help to convey course content in a different way that appeal to learners with a variety of learning styles. Digital courseware has the potential to bring curriculum objectives to life with a variety of interactive learning tools. Click-on target questions allow students to place requested targets on an image and then view aggregated student submissions on a heat map. Discussion questions let students converse with their peers over complex subject matter and share questions and opinions with one another over dense course concepts.

Digital course content should eliminate the barrier to participation, especially in large class sizes. It can be daunting for students to raise their hands to ask clarifying questions in a 400-seat lecture hall, but digital course tools and platforms pose questions so students can participate anonymously. This allows students to engage more easily in their own learning process, by placing the course material in their own hands.

Digital course tools can also be used for attendance taking. By allowing instructors to automatically verify whether a student is physically present in class, grades for attendance and participation can be auto-assigned, rendering sign-in sheets and access pass scanning a thing of the past.

Ensuring you have a modern learning experience

Today’s students are accustomed to digital devices in every area of their lives. Their education does not have to be any different. Digital course content can provide a comprehensive, end-to-end solution for course materials, assessments, lecture slides, and discussions. If it’s possible to do each of those tasks individually, on separate platforms, it should be possible to carry them out all-in-one.

Learn more about the Top Hat platform and how a digital textbook, based on your students laptops and phones, can fully integrate into your course, helping increase student success outcomes that are trackable and transparent.

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