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Report: Digital or Bust by 2017

According to the report “Out of Print: Reimagining the K-12 Textbook in the Digital Age,” schools nationwide will trade textbooks for laptops, tablets and mobile devices that allow for more interactive learning by 2017.

As of 2017, textbooks should be a thing of the past, according to a report, “Out of Print: Reimagining the K-12 Textbook in a Digital Age,” released by the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) in September. The report recommends that states and districts begin making the shift from print to digital instructional materials with the next major textbook adoption cycle, completing the transition within the next five years.

Switching to digital content provides a number of advantages, including that it is cost effective: States and districts spend $5.5 billion on instructional content each year, but many students are using textbooks with content that is seven to 10 years old. Digital content can be kept up to date without any printing costs.

The material is also more interactive, according to Douglas Levin, SETDA’s executive director. Instead of just text, students can access video clips, animations, and virtual labs. “With multimedia, teachers will be able to explain complex phenomena in ways that are easier to understand, particularly in science and math,” says Levin. “The ability to graph and show the relationship of variables to each other in real time is something that flat words on a page simply can’t do.”

Digital content can be personalized for individual student learning needs and abilities, with options to hear the text read aloud, instantly look up unknown words, and change the font size. Over time, administrators would be able to collect information on how frequently students are accessing the digital content compared to student performance, and learn which lessons are working, Levin says.

Going digital also means teachers can bring together lessons from different sources, rather than only one book. Teachers will also have the opportunity to get involved in creating and refining their classroom content.

SETDA decided to set the 2017 target date so schools and districts could create a realistic plan for implementation. The report’s timing is also in light of Common Core State Standards adoption, as 45 states and three territories are identifying high quality instructional resources aligned with these standards. “It’s important to have a sense of urgency, and take the bull by the horns,” Levin concludes. “This is a shift that is happening; it’s not a question of if, but how, and how fast. If [administrators] are interested in a driving instructional change, they would benefit by guiding their school community through a process to shift to digital.”

To read the report, go to