Utah showing how digital learning can make public schools more cost-effective

800px-Lewis_Hine,_Boy_studying,_ca._1924As noted in a recent news story in The Salt Lake Tribune, Utah has begun a move away from traditional textbooks to digital textbooks (aka e-books) that is “gaining speed.” These e-books are “cheaper, more up to date and interactive,” and most importantly, “better [suit] the needs of today’s tech-savvy learners” (i.e., children).

In short, they are providing tools that help to educate children just as well as, if not better than, traditional methods, but for a much lower cost. As one person interviewed for the article put it,

They can continue to have [school] districts serve as a flow-through mechanism to funnel public money to textbook publishers, or they can redirect those funds into supporting master teachers and others and pulling together materials that are free.

One reason these digital textbooks are free is because they are “open source” – meaning they are put online for anyone to use how they see fit. The cost difference of such textbooks is striking, as one researcher who studied students in Utah who used these kinds of e-books found that they cost “less than half as much” each year than traditional textbooks. This researcher also found no negative impacts, and perhaps a small positive impact, correlated with switching to these e-books. The Utah State Office of Education is now wisely coordinating an effort to create such textbooks in science, math, and language arts.

Wise implementation of a policy to replace traditional textbooks with digital texts is just one way that digital learning – in this case blended learning – holds promise to improve the cost-effectiveness of public schools. The key to truly taking advantage of this and other benefits of digital learning in Utah that will improve the lives of children is for the public education system to embrace digital learning and learn how to use it effectively – not to replace teachers, but to use technology to turn every teacher into a “master teacher” who focuses almost entirely on helping individual children learn what they’re struggling to understand, rather than having to worry about how to keep the attention of 30 children at once, or the next test that they have to grade.

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