Why is McGraw Hill declaring textbooks doomed?

We were as surprised as everyone else last month when we saw David Levin, the CEO of McGraw Hill effectively sound the death knell for textbooks.  Like a number of other publishing giants, McGraw Hill had long talked about a strategic change of direction to blend their digital and print resources in future  but this post felt altogether more final.

Levin went into detail about the problem, describing textbooks (the company’s main money-earner) as expensive and outdated. He highlighted the company’s research into the potential benefits of digital resources, and how they are proven to improve performances and results for mainstream students as well as remedial classes, ultimately leading to higher grades and better jobs.  Not to mention the immediate benefits of savings on textbooks and additional tuition. Unsurprisingly, we agree and think there are at least three broad areas where technology will quickly bring about fundamental improvements in the way students learn A level maths.

Mastery learning through adaptivity – According to research Daphne Koller references, the average student studying in a mastery learning format perform at one standard deviation above a student in a traditional lecture course. However students undergoing 1:1 tuition perform at two standard deviations above.  Applied properly,  technology will enable some of the personalised aspects of private tuition to bridge this second gap. Websites and learning algorithms can tailor question difficulty and depth of explanation to the ability of a student, so that the brightest will always feel challenged, and the weakest will never feel overwhelmed.

Effective and Timely Feedback – Current protocol for maths homework leaves anywhere from two days to a week between students attempting a solution and finding out whether their answer is right or wrong. Online resources can provide instant feedback, either directly to the student which is diagnostic, offering common wrong answers, and allowing it to identify common misconceptions that the student might hold, or to teachers allowing them to tailor their approach at an individual level in the classroom.

Fun and active learning – The most interesting and engaging way to learn mathematics involves regularly using your knowledge by enjoying the thrill of problem solving.  Answering short questions, and interacting with widgets and dynamic diagrams can familiarise students with this thrill through gamification, competition and progression.

The fact that industry giants are anticipating a sea-change in education is important but perhaps it is small companies, free from the shackles of a print legacy, which can take full advantage of the opportunities of technology.

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