digital education

When will there be a truly "digital" education?


The new generation of schoolchildren and students (between 6 and 25 years old) naturally use computers, tablets, digital readers and smartphones more than any previous generation. Generation Y" or "Digital Native" was born with the Internet and has been familiar with new technologies from an early age.

Generation Y is a compulsive user of smartphones, mobile applications, video games, computer programs and other applications. e-learning or social media of any kind. For these savvy, enlightened users and natural experts of the digital world, handling all these new digital interfaces is a natural reflex.

While the recent arrival of touch tablets on the market, such as the iPad, has actually appealed to many teachers and students, today, very few schools or universities have actually adopted touch tablets in their curriculum.

Contact with students and teachers is currently more about discovery and exploration. According to the latest estimates, only 3% of university students now use a touch tablet.

It's a fact that students today spend a considerable amount of time, in their personal capacity, in front of screens, from their smartphone to their laptop. Nevertheless, according to a recent survey, 75% of university students would still far prefer traditional printed books to their digital counterparts. Furthermore, according to the ongoing US research project "Student Attitudes Toward Content in Higher Education" conducted by the Book Industry Study Group (BISG), fewer than 20% of teachers would use the latest teaching materials and content available to them to deliver their courses. Thus, while the potential of digital media available to them is increasingly vast and easily accessible, teachers still prefer to opt for a combination of different media, often somewhat dated, and with a preference for traditional print media.

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Publishers invest in digital technologies

For their part, the major publishers have invested early and intelligently in new technologies by multiplying partnerships with digital publishing service providers, such as the Jouve Group, in order to optimise the combined publishing of educational books in traditional as well as digital versions.

The first XML technologies coupled with innovative digital editorial formats have enabled publishers to create entire collections of teaching materials for all ages, now available in both traditional print and digital formats.

They have developed new methods for adapting and customising content to the specific needs of students, for individual courses, institutions and teachers. In addition, the publishers have developed new, scalable and intelligent algorithms to adapt courses to the needs and progress of students. Used intelligently and wisely, the use of these new digital media allows for optimal results for both teachers and students, whether online and distance learning or within the school or university environment.

From the students' point of view

All studies today indicate that traditional print media only partially meet the real needs of students. In particular, the quality/price ratio is too high to justify a one-off use of these media in the face of students constantly looking for complementary or alternative teaching materials in digital version.

Students are savvy consumers, always looking for the best quality/price ratio considering their often limited budget. The majority of students buy their course books themselves and because traditional print editions, both new and used, are often too expensive for their budget, only 55% of them buy the latest updated version of the books for their class. The others buy either older editions, or editions from other countries, or cheaper e-book versions, often even fraudulent copies available on the Internet, or simply borrow them from the library. Their behaviour clearly indicates that they do not perceive any real added value in buying the latest update of course content, as proposed by the official publishers. The content of course books has become commonplace and is often accessible with one click, either free of charge or at a low price on the internet.

Conversely, students who use the latest generation of digital media such as "Wiley Plus", "Pearson's Mastering series" or "McGraw Hill's Connect", find immediate and measurable added value that better meets their expectations. In the latest study conducted by the BISG on the subject, these new all-digital teaching interfaces systematically obtain better evaluation scores than traditional printed works on all evaluation criteria: simplicity, efficiency, ergonomics, memorization, etc. On the other hand, if today's students do indeed have a broad preference for multimedia editions, it must be stressed that these are indeed the latest generation of interactive tools. On the other hand, so-called "homothetic" digital books, simple replicas in PDF format of their classic books, have not been so successful. During the previous school year, only 3% of students bought this type of "simple" digital book.

From the teachers' perspective

Many schools and universities are now actively experimenting with new methods and technologies to improve the effectiveness of their educational programmes. Nevertheless, most of them are facing recurrent budgetary problems. This is now a major, if not the most important, constraint to the acquisition of digital media and to the training of teachers who wish to go digital.

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While teachers are aware of the added value of new digital teaching techniques, when they are adaptive and scalable, they do not always share the same objectives as their parent institutions in terms of how to achieve them. This divergence, combined with ever-increasing workloads and curricula, leaves teachers with little time and resources to train and convert their materials and methods to digital.

The current challenge

The main challenge in the transition to the 'all-digital' world is the need to change minds and attitudes on the part of both teachers and institutions.

As new digital educational platforms develop and improve, they may be perceived as a danger or threat, ultimately aiming to replace or blur the traditional role and stature of teachers in schools and universities. However, the time that these new technologies could save teachers, especially in the teaching of basic knowledge, could and should be reinvested and redeployed to explore or deepen new fields of knowledge with their students. Time spent in class could thus be better used rather than replaced, as some fear, by game simulators or e-learning programmes delivered at a distance via the Internet.

The new generation of students, familiar with the new technologies, is constantly searching, both personally and in parallel, for digital information carriers. They are therefore already naturally and by themselves filling the gaps in the education system. Therefore, this digital transition will, in any case, be student-led. Both demand and expectation are high and supply is slow to build up. It therefore seems essential and urgent today for institutions and publishers to work hand in hand to make the transition to digital technology and offer new, more effective tools to the students who are waiting for them.

What will we have to change?

In the digital world, paradigm shifts generally occur as a result of the arrival on the market and the widespread adoption by users of new interfaces that shake up the game, the "game changers", as smartphones or touch tablets have recently been able to do. The latter, full of promise, nevertheless still seem too recent.

Tablets are not yet sufficiently powerful and developed, nor affordable enough in terms of purchase cost, to provide the single interface that teachers and students could dream of. At this stage, we will have to wait a few more years for tablets to increase their power and their fields of application before they will definitely appeal to the teaching world. The day when the majority of students will have at their disposal an intelligent, complete and affordable offer in terms of interfaces as well as educational content in digital version, then teachers and institutions will be able to develop their pedagogical approach in an efficient way. The movement seems irremediable.

The next generation of educational solutions, still to come, will in any case be entirely "born digital", i.e. conceived, thought and created at 100% by authors and developers, from the new generation born with the Internet. In this context, it seems clear that the curricula and teaching methods will have to be completely rethought, with a new approach, which cannot be a simple transfer, a sort of copy/paste from paper to digital of pre-existing methods and media. Their design will be modular, adaptable and customizable as already proposed for example by the platform "Cengage's new Mindtap. These new curricula will have all the characteristics of the new digital paradigm: mobile, social, customizable, interactive, scalable, etc...

In this context, publishers must also completely rethink their organization and adapt their manufacturing processes. The Jouve Group thus proposes to integrate digital technology earlier and earlier in the editorial process, with the upstream creation of pivotal formats which can then be easily adapted to any final format for any reading support, digital or paper. The paper edition tends, in the long term, to become a medium like any other alongside the various digital formats. This process also makes it possible to reduce production times and costs, improve proofreading phases and integrate external contributors.

Business models and distribution channels will also have to change radically. As publishers develop and market more sophisticated and powerful digital educational platforms for teaching and learning, they will have to move away from the marketing of their traditional media on the other hand. In this context, the conversion of traditional data and knowledge into digital versions will have a significant cost that publishers will, at some point and in some way, have to pass on and re-invoice to schools, universities and students. Indeed, publishers and universities are currently experimenting in the USA with a new licensing system that allows costs to be shared equitably between the parties on a per-student basis. Indiana State University in the USA is one of the pilot structures currently testing these new systems. Another major benefit of this new paperless relationship will also be the elimination of all intermediaries and will allow publishers and students to develop and maintain a direct, personal and real-time dialogue for full customization of media and services. This will be the end of standards.

In conclusion

The digital revolution is continuing and accelerating. Based on the latest technological innovations such as XML, HTML5 and the new EPub3 format, mobile interfaces are becoming more and more powerful every day, also taking a new impetus from the latest resources offered by Cloud Computing. New digital educational programs (e-learning) are becoming more intelligent and autonomous. They are adaptable, customizable and scalable. Based on powerful algorithms, the new pedagogical interfaces become multimedia and fully interactive. Creating a permanent dialogue with their users, these programs allow to question and evaluate continuously the gaps as well as the students' achievements in order to propose them individualized exercises and programs. Teachers will therefore be able to adapt, update and develop their teaching effectively and in real time by drawing on open resources in an almost unlimited way.

Today, most of the technologies necessary and useful for this digital transition of our education systems exist or will soon be available, and the students themselves are already ready and even impatient. The next step is therefore that of the necessary evolution of traditional mentalities and practices.

About Jouve 

As a service provider, the Jouve Group is at the heart of content, digital and new broadcasting media (Outsourcing of business processes, editorial services, printing and associated services, It solutions). Leader in the production of digital books, number 1 in legacy digitisation, the Group is also one of the leaders in the French BPO "Business Process Outsourcing" market. Created in 1903, Jouve is a family-owned Group with a stable shareholding, with more than 3000 employees on 27 production sites, including 16 in France.

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