Studies show college students get higher grades and learn better with digital course materials

Lower cost digital options from education publishers provide measurable improvements for students

(28 September 2016, Washington, DC)  Multiple studies from education publishers reveal that digital learning materials are improving student performance in college, resulting in higher exam scores, better grades, and fewer students dropping out of classes. Digital materials, which are available via access codes or software, are used with or instead of print textbooks and typically cost less than traditional materials. The materials can be rented or purchased online, in the campus bookstore or directly from the publisher – offering students options to match their budget and preference.

In addition to the full text of a printed textbook, many digital materials include features like adaptive quizzes, practice activities, animations and simulations, calendaring functions and gradebooks. With digital course materials, professors can customize lectures based on class progress, and materials can be quickly updated when new information is found or new discoveries are made. They provide immediate feedback on progress in class and offer guidance to students in the areas they are struggling with at any hour.

Improving Grades

Several studies indicate students using digital learning platforms are getting better grades than their peers using only a print textbook.

  • A study surveying students using Pearson’s digital learning platform for a two-semester      Anatomy and Physiology course found that there was a 13 percentage point improvement in      students earning an A, B or C for the first semester when using digital materials, compared to students who did not use a digital platform. For the second semester, that increase was 27 percentage points.
  • A research collaboration between W. W. Norton and Dustin Tingley of the Learning      Research Group at Harvard revealed that students using InQuizitive for an Intro to American Government class had an 8.4-point increase when they completed an      InQuizitive activity prior to taking a summative quiz. This improvement increased by 13.1 points (more than a letter grade) for students using InQuizitive as part of their course.
  • A McGraw-Hill Education study of nine instructors across 16 disciplines found that 15% more students earned A’s and B’s when using digital materials compared to students who did not use digital course materials.

Learning Improvements

Because the digital platforms are personalized to each student, they adapt to the individual’s needs and focus on the areas that are most critical to that student’s success. They offer practice questions and progress reports with immediate feedback that help students learn from their mistakes by testing where the student is and then providing learning aids to get them to where they need to be. Learning and practicing concepts using tutorials, quizzing modules and multimedia provides skills that help students prepare for graduation and future jobs.

  • In addition to better grades (32% more A’s), independent research confirms that students using Cengage’s MindTap for a History course improved their critical thinking skills more than a comparable group of students that did not use the platform.
  • Two-thirds of Economics students using MindTap felt the platform helped them go beyond memorization and recall to higher levels of learning.
  • Macmillan Learning found that 78% of the students who used their LaunchPad digital platform during the Fall 2015 semester reported that it helped them improve their knowledge of the course material.
  • Eighty-six percent of students using Macmillan Learning’s adaptive quizzing tool, Learning Curve, for a Psychology course found that it helped them learn the key concepts and helped them more than studying on their own would have.

Students Stay in Class

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only about 60% of students seeking a bachelor’s degree at a four-year institution in Fall 2008 earned one. Digital learning solutions help address some reasons that students cite for dropping out – workload, preparation for class and lack of advising. The analytics incorporated in digital materials help instructors easily track performance and identify at-risk students and encourage them to continue with the class.

  • A McGraw-Hill Education study on the effectiveness of their digital tools found that student retention increased from 70% to 90% in sections using a digital learning platform versus sections not using a digital platform.
  • A professor teaching developmental math improved the rate of students passing her class from 56% to 88% using the personalized learning features in Pearson’s MyMathLab.
  • WileyPLUS with ORION resulted in better outcomes for students who were not fully engaged in the classroom. Instructors who cite this as a challenge saw an average of a half-grade point increase in student performance.

Increased Use of Digital Materials:

Recent studies from independent research firm Student Monitor have shown that an increasing number of students are using digital learning products, which typically cost half of the price of a printed textbook. Student Monitor reports that in Spring 2016, the share of students purchasing digital course materials for unlimited use increased 63% while the number of students renting a digital textbook increased 100%, compared to Spring 2015.

In addition to lower prices and improved grades, students also choose digital because it is more convenient than print books, more environmentally friendly and can often be purchased at the same time as tuition and fees.

Unsurprisingly, students who use digital materials tend to have more favorable opinions of them. When WileyPlus was introduced to an introductory psychology course at the University of Cincinnati, students who used it found it beneficial – three out of four would opt to use the digital learning tool again in a future course.

“Education publishers and learning companies have heard college students loud and clear and are offering them more of what they want – more affordable materials without sacrificing high quality content,” said David E. Anderson, Executive Director of Higher Education at the Association of American Publishers. “Publishers are able to do that, in large part, because of this transition to interactive and engaging digital materials. In addition to paying less, students are also getting better grades, passing more classes, and graduating on time.”

Find out more about Digital Learning Materials.