How Technology Has Led to the Demise of the Traditional Textbook

ixl learning
IXL Learning

Technology has changed the world around us forever and this includes the realm of education. The impact that educational technology is having on teaching and learning is so expansive that it cannot be accurately measured.  It has completely revolutionized how teachers approach everything about their job including lesson planning, whole and small group instruction, and intervention for struggling students.

  Virtually every facet of teaching and learning today is impacted by edtech in some manner.

One of the most critical shifts in education due to the rise of technology revolves around the demise of the traditional textbook.  Tangible textbooks, once a necessity and fixture in every classroom, are vanishing at a rapid rate.  They are being replaced by their digital brethren that offers superior features such as customizable, quick updates, and personalized adaptive learning.  As many schools move to a 1-on-1 initiative, where every student is given their own laptop or iPad, the transition to a digital-only platform is a natural plot forward eventually leading to the extinction of the traditional textbook.

IXL Learning is an edtech company at the forefront of this shift from a traditional textbook to a comprehensive digital, personalized learning platform for students.  IXL offers popular online adaptive programs covering more than 5000 skills in English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies.

IXL is aligned to the Common Core State Standards and all state standards. IXL serves 1 in 10 students in the United States, and more than 5 million students worldwide.  

Kate Mattison is the Director of Products at IXL Learning. I was able to ask her several questions concerning the advancements of educational technology, how it is impacting the textbook industry, and what IXL Learning brings to the conversation.

Kate provided outstanding insight into the benefits of this shift towards providing students with a comprehensive technology-based education.

Derrick Meador: How is educational technology changing the textbook industry?

Kate Mattison: Simply put, educational technology, or edtech, makes the content that was once limited to physical textbooks instantly accessible and searchable online. We've already seen a strong movement towards digital textbooks—many publishing companies have said their next editions of popular textbooks will be digital-only. But, edtech is ready to go even further and replace the concept of textbooks altogether.

Both physical and digital textbooks cover a limited set of topics in a fixed order. With edtech, we can offer students an unlimited number of topics they can explore through a nearly endless variety of possible paths. Students no longer have to go from Chapter 1.1 to Chapter 1.2 and onwards in a set learning path. This personalized adaptability is important because not all students learn the same way or at the same pace. By giving students more control over what to learn, when to learn it, and what order to learn it in, we create a learning experience based off of personal discovery.

Additionally, technology allows learning content to be continuously updated and improved so that students are never learning outdated or irrelevant material. This helps place what the students are learning in an immediate context that relates to the world around them.

Derrick: In your opinion, how do traditional textbooks limit teaching and learning?

Kate: Traditional textbooks literally limit learning, because they offer a limited amount of space. You can only put so many pages in a textbook! Adaptive edtech offers students a solution that is both unlimited in scope and highly personalized.

Derrick: What are the benefits for teachers of moving to a digitally based curriculum?

Kate: Not all children learn at the same pace. For some, a certain subject will immediately click; others will need a little more time to grasp it fully.

When you’re running a curriculum for an entire classroom, it can be extremely difficult to continue challenging those who are racing ahead while providing full support to those who may feel like they are falling behind. Even though it might simply be one topic or concept that they struggle with, the mentality of being behind the rest of the class can be equally as damaging. With a system that allows for a personal and adaptive learning pattern, each student can confidently learn at his or her own pace and level. Furthermore, teachers can use data to help make informed decisions about what concepts might be tripping a student up and where he or she might excel.

Derrick: What are some disadvantages for teachers of moving to a digitally based curriculum?

Kate: The edtech marketplace can be a difficult landscape to navigate. Often, there are products whose grand promises are not backed with training or real support for teachers, leaving some forced to spend time as an IT specialist rather than a teacher. Edtech products should truly act as tools, not hindrances. It is important to choose a product that works with the systems and technology you already have in place and provides meaningful analytics instead of overwhelming you with raw data.

Derrick: Do teachers require more training to utilize a digitally based curriculum effectively?

Kate: A good digital curriculum should be intuitive and easy to use. The best programs are carefully built around a natural learning progression inspired by real-life teachers and students.

Fluency with technology is becoming more and more common, especially amongst the students of this generation. For teachers, nothing more than a quick intro should be required to get them started. This way, teachers can focus on what really matters: the students.  

Derrick: How do students seem to respond to the online learning platform?

Kate: We’ve seen an amazing response from our users over the years. Parents, teachers and students have let us know that they value being able to access IXL’s unlimited content from anywhere, and they love receiving positive reinforcement, relevant context, explanations, and insight along the way. We have certificates for finishing certain amounts of problems and virtual awards for mastering different skills, and kids all over the country delight in showing these to their family members and taking pride in what they’ve accomplished. For kids raised in this increasingly digital age, the web and app interfaces seem like an obvious presentation of information that they’re totally comfortable with.  

Derrick: Give a brief overview of the program(s) that IXL offers that serve as an alternative to traditional textbooks.

Kate: IXL Learning is an adaptive educational technology that delivers an immersive learning experience—for all students, in all grades, across all subjects. With 1 in 10 students already using it in the U.S., and over 25 billion questions asked and answered around the world, IXL is helping schools successfully use technology to improve teaching and learning.

Our team of researchers, educators, and technologists crafts unique, high-quality content that provides unprecedented depth, breadth, and challenge for each specific skill. From algebra to adverbs, molecules to maps, IXL’s content, and technology enable fresh, engaging and personalized experiences that spark curiosity and build confidence. With IXL, teachers get full support with features such as IXL Analytics, which provides actionable insights into students’ learning. Students get access to an unlimited world of content they are free to discover at will and at their own pace.

Derrick: What specific components of your program(s) do you believe makes it a superior option to traditional textbooks?

Kate: IXL offers unlimited questions in over 5,000 skills. This means that, instead of a small textbook problem set, students can practice as much as necessary and will rarely, if ever, see the same question twice.

One feature that is very popular with our teachers is IXL Analytics. IXL Analytics makes using data in the classroom easy by allowing teachers to pinpoint exact item types students are struggling with, track class progress toward meeting state standards, identify areas for improvement, and more. Students can also track their mastery on each skill with SmartScore, IXL’s algorithm that measures how well a student understands a skill. With IXL’s SmartScore, it is not about just getting questions right and earning a percentage score, but about gaining excellence and achieving mastery. IXL also features Common Core and state standards alignment, meaning that schools can adapt to any changes in Common Core or state testing without having to re-invest in new textbooks.

When a student gets a question wrong on IXL, he or she isn't left in the lurch to go back and find out why; IXL instantly provides a step-by-step explanation of the correct answer.

Lastly, IXL has mobile applications that allow students to access the program from wherever they are without having to tug along a heavy book. That way, some more of that screen time can be constructive time no matter where they are.

Derrick: What responses have you received from teachers and students who are using your program?

Kate: Some of the most inspiring feedback I’ve heard from users includes teachers who say they’ve gotten rid of their textbooks and created an IXL-centered curriculum. I also love seeing the photos that students send us of themselves showing off the award certificates they earned—it’s so rewarding for us to know that we’re truly helping students learn and that they’re enjoying the process! Perhaps my favorite thing is hearing from parents who say that their kids used to hate math, but that IXL is so fun they now spend their free time practicing math on IXL.

Derrick: Where do you see the textbook industry in 10 years?

Kate: In ten years, the textbook industry will look completely different. From elementary through higher education, students and teachers will have better options available through technology that allows for more personalized learning, while teachers will have more accurate and flexible teaching tools. Textbook companies are already pivoting to digital as more and more institutions rely on educational technology. Soon, both physical and digital textbooks will be a part of our educational history and an anachronism in any modern and forward-thinking classroom.