Textbooks are more expensive than ever. Unfortunately, so is tuition and cost of living, and many students simply can’t keep up. Countless students are opting for used textbooks, textbook rental services, or going without a book at all. While publishers can’t solve the student loan crisis, they can offer options that bring affordable learning materials within reach. One possible way of doing this is by selling smaller chunks of learning. Similar to a chapter in a book, small segments of content offer big benefits for students, educators, and publishers alike.
Cost is the first benefit that comes to mind. Rather than dropping $200 on a new textbook, students can buy content as they go. Additionally, it’s uncommon for a single class to cover every single chapter in a traditional textbook. The result? Students often pay for content they never actually use. Selling chunks of content allows students to purchase the packages that they actually need without wasting money.
More importantly, this approach works. The concept of short chunks of learning is not new. Harvard psychologist George A. Miller believed that short-term memory could only carry 5-9 chunks of information at a time. Modern experts have varying opinions on exactly how many chunks a student can remember, but the concept holds true: People can only store so much information in their short-term memory at a time. By accessing learning material in short bursts, students can make the most of their working memory. Rather than trying to cram in too much information at once, learning chunks give the brain time to process what they’ve learned. Ultimately, this results in improved learning outcomes and better retention rates.
Despite standardized prerequisites, it’s not uncommon for some students to arrive in class with gaps in their knowledge. Whether their previous teacher skipped over a particular topic or the student just didn’t master it, the resulting gap is the same. It’s impossible for a teacher to fill in the gaps for every student, so most are left to catch up on their own or fall behind. Chunks of learning offer a solution to this problem.
Teachers can provide links to chunks of learning that cover the background and basics of each lesson. In doing so, they make it easy for students who need additional practice to find the learning material they need to close the gap. Teachers can also share chunks of learning that will further students’ knowledge and give them a leg up on future courses.
Many academic publishers have a gap of their own to close. Publishers are battling rising textbook costs, reduced sales, and major competitors like Amazon… All at the same time! In some respects, they genuinely can’t compete. No publisher can offer a new textbook for less than students can rent them. As long as students continue to struggle with the cost of education, they will continue opting for less expensive options. Rather than taking on a fight they can’t win, publishers can choose a different tactic.
By offering compact, concise chunks of learning, publishers provide an option that other competitors can’t. Digital learning chunks are affordable, relevant, and appealing to both students and teachers, offering publishers an opportunity that full-length textbooks can’t give. While this practice of breaking up learning and selling learning material in chunks is relatively new, it shows great promise for academic publishers to grow and innovate in a challenging market.
At Gutenberg Technology, we designed a specific feature to help publishers in the creation of their small chunks of content: the Courseware Creator. It gives the ability to customize learning paths, keep material current, and divide textbooks into digestible learning objects.