05:13 PM

FAQs: Digital Learning Systems, Access Codes & eTextbooks

by Amanda Straub, Special Assistant for Policy, Higher Education


What’s the difference between digital learning systems, access codes and eTextbooks?

Though these terms are often used interchangeably, they’re actually different products. Digital learning systems are customizable, collaborative online learning materials. They incorporate interactive and personalized learning technology, including interactive tutorials, homework engines and assessments and tools to track grades and coursework progress.

Access codes are the “keys” used to unlock digital learning systems that include various quality content, tools and services.

eTextbooks are digital native products and are often fully-interactive.

How long do access codes typically provide access to the digital learning systems?

Access codes are available for both purchase and for rent. The length of the subscriptions to digital learning systems varies, depending on type of course, course length and type of learning materials. eTextbooks are often available under both a permanent and temporary license. Tests, quizzes, homework and calendar functions are typically available for the duration of a class.

Do digital learning systems cost more or less than print books?

Digital learning systems are substantially less expensive – often 30% to 60% -- than the cost of a traditional print textbook. Students cite the lower cost of digital materials as the top reason they prefer digital.

The transition to digital is one of the reasons that students are spending less on textbooks in recent years. For the 2015-2016 academic year, Student Monitor and Student Watch found that students spent an average of $600 for college course materials. This is a decrease of about 12% -- or $80 – from the average spent during the previous academic year. In fact, students spent an average of just $69 for each course material in Spring 2016.

What are the benefits of a digital learning system?

Students experience many benefits when using digital learning systems, including earning better grades. One study surveying students who used digital materials versus students who did not found that those using the digital learning systems earned 15% more As and Bs than those who did not use a digital learning system.

Digital learning systems also improve overall learning. Students are reporting better critical thinking skills, overall improved knowledge of course materials and the ability to go beyond memorization and recall to higher levels of learning. Retention of students in the class also improved in course sections using digital learning systems over those who have not used them.

With digital learning, faculty are able to customize the students’ learning experience based on their specific course and class needs. Instructors can assign homework and quizzes, set up online office hours for assistance or collaborative work assignments, and better engage students and improve their chances of course success.

Digital learning systems can be accessed on smartphones, tablets, and laptops.

College is pretty expensive. What if students still can’t afford their materials and have to drop out?

The greatest financial burden falls on students who pay tuition and take out loans but fail to graduate and get a degree. Today, student loan balances in the U.S. exceed $1.3 trillion. The educational learning industry is working hard to address this by creating powerful digital course materials that make learning more efficient helping students to graduate.

What happens if students choose to “opt-out” of using a digital course material even if their professor assigns one?

The method for opting out will vary depending on the specific learning materials in question and the digital systems and curriculum policies for each institution. Typically, a student is not charged for digital course materials until after the drop/add period has ended.

Are digital learning systems the way of the future?

Digital learning systems and the codes used to access them are not new. Students and instructors have relied on these systems for many years given their affordability and the ability to integrate interactive course materials into the curriculum. Education companies have invested in research and product development for years to help improve learning outcomes for college students and decrease cost – digital has proven to be an excellent solution.