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EDUCAUSE 2014: Publisher Says ‘Textbooks Are Dead,’ and Adaptive Learning Is Rising from the Ashes

Analytics that give insight about how students learn guide the future of the publishing world, EDUCAUSE session speakers say.

“Textbooks are dead. They're dinosaurs,” said Brian Kibby, president of McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

Kibby's show-stopping quote came near the beginning of a Tuesday session at EDUCAUSE 2014 on the future of textbooks, led by himself and Dr. Robert S. Feldman, deputy chancellor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The next evolution of learning materials will be enhanced by a personalized experience powered by adaptive learning techniques, the pair posited.

Feldman, a textbook author, also teaches math at his university. Students taking his courses use digital materials that give him specific feedback about how they are absorbing the material. The data includes precise, paragraph-level — sometimes sentence-level — analytic analysis.

It's a treasure trove of information for any author embarking on textbook revisions, Feldman says. He can turn to the data provided by his students to see how he can improve learning materials in their next iteration.

By comparing how students performed on tests to the corresponding information in the book, Feldman can predict what section — or even what sentence — might run students off course.

"I can know empirically what material is effective and what material needs work. No author has had this kind of information before," Feldman said. "I now have confidence that the changes I'm making are actively targeting the areas that are the most troublesome to students."

McGraw-Hill is testing these digital initiatives in a variety of classroom scenarios across several disciplines, but Kibby said they were still in the early stages of development.

During the question-and-answer portion of the session, several members of the audience expressed skepticism that these learning stumbling blocks could be so easily isolated, given the wide range of factors that may be impeding a student’s comprehension of the material.

Feldman countered that while the method was still being tested, he already sees results in his own classes and expects to see things turn around once more data has been collected.

"We think this is putting us on the road to higher retention and graduation rates," he said.

EdTech is providing constant coverage of EDUCAUSE 2014, including video interviews, session information and tons of photos. Keep up-to-date on all of our coverage by visiting our EDUCAUSE 2014 conference page.

Oct 02 2014