Benefits and Challenges of Digital Textbooks

In February of 2012, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) unveiled a new “Digital Learning Playbook” which is a roadmap for educators to transition American schools to digital textbooks by 2017. The transition is occurring in pockets, but is not widespread.


Currently, only a small fraction of total textbook sales are digital textbooks. Still, several states have enacted changes in recent years to make it easier for districts to go digital.  Florida was the first state to mandate that public schools spend half their textbook budgets on digital textbooks by 2015.

In addition to funding school connectivity through the E-rate program, the FCC is working to increase access to broadband at home for students and low-income families via Connect to Compete, a national public/private partnership. Broadband connectivity at home will allow schools to accelerate the transition to digital textbooks.

Benefits of Digital Textbooks:

  • Convenience
  • Updating digital editions is faster and more cost effective
  • Digital textbooks are more current
  • Students no longer have to transport heavy book bags
  • Richer content, including videos and links to other resources
  • Digital textbook content can be searched

Challenges of Digital Textbooks:

  • Not every student can afford a mobile device
  • Not every student has Internet access at home
  • Technological problems
  • Eye strain (computer vision syndrome)
  • Students can’t resell digital versions
  • Some students just prefer a print book


  • Wieder, B., States move slowly toward digital textbooks, (Washington, DC), (2012, April 23).
  • The Palm Beach Post, Digital textbooks will come with their own problems, (2013, February 11).
  • Federal Communications Commission, Fact Sheet, Digital Textbook Playbook, (released 2012, February 1).

“The biggest human temptation is to settle for too little.”

–Thomas Merton


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