Students Say eTextbooks Improve Learning and Raise Grades at University, Reveals VitalSource Research

MBA Blog / 27th March 2018

In a new survey conducted on behalf of VitalSource®, the leading provider of online textbooks and course materials, two thirds of students (66%) reveal that eTextbooks provide them with a greater sense of confidence towards their learning, and over half (57%) believe they contribute to better grades. In addition, 83% of students said that eTextbooks allow for more effective independent study and 50% of students said it made them more likely to complete their course.  

These results suggest that by integrating eTextbooks widely into course materials, universities may be able to make significant strides forward in meeting the teaching quality, learning environments and student outcome requirements of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF).

Phil Gee, Associate Head of School – Teaching and Learning, Plymouth University, said, “It is our role as educators to offer a learning environment that is tailored to our students’ needs and that enables all of them to achieve their goals. eTextbooks allow us to give each and every student the same resources to support their learning in a much more interactive way, and to develop a better understanding of how our students study.”

For students with additional challenges, the impact of eTextbooks on learning was even more profound. All the users surveyed who have a disability reported that links to eTextbooks in the course module saved them time and hassle and had a positive impact on their learning experience. These students also reported that the specialist functions provided by eTextbooks, such as read aloud, were more likely to have a positive impact on their studies than non-disabled students.

Access to course materials is a key issue for students, with 94% saying eTextbooks, which are free or more affordable, have a positive impact on their learning. In particular, 73% of widening participation* respondents said they would have delayed purchasing or reading content required for their course if their university had not provided eTextbooks. Furthermore, 58% of widening participation students stated that they did not believe they would have completed their required reading without them.

The vast majority (89%) of eTextbook users indicated that the functionality of these materials has had a positive impact on their learning, perhaps signalling a shift towards more modern, interactive ways of learning. Most notably, students report that functions such as search (95%), the citation tool (89%) and note making tools (86%) helped with their studies. The results suggest that students are highly receptive to new ways of consuming information, seeking more than simply written materials. 

John Donovan, Managing Director EMEA for VitalSource, commented, “This research has been important in understanding what students value when it comes to their learning resources. It is clear that students are seeking flexibility, and no longer wish to simply rely on printed materials. If universities are able to incorporate interactive materials into their courses, then students stand to gain in terms of their learning and achievement in higher education.”

The study revealed that the use of modern learning tools like eTextbooks are becoming commonplace within many higher education institutions. Two thirds of all students within the study reported that their university had provided them with an eTextbook. This suggests that 80% of universities surveyed provide eTextbooks to at least some of their students.  One year prior, this figure was 66%, showing an uplift of 14% of universities now offering this service to students.

However, the research also revealed that universities need to do more than simply provide content, as students are more engaged when eTextbooks are well integrated into their courses. Nearly all students reported that links to eTextbooks in the course module (94%) and lecturers adding notes and tips (90%) had a positive impact on their learning. This suggests that institutions should offer support and guidance to lecturers to integrate these resources into their modules if their students are to reap the full benefits of online course materials. 

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