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College Students Benefit from Using Digital Learning Aids

When reading, writing, and arithmetic were invented more than 5,000 years ago, the available technology was modest. However, chiseling on stone and writing on clay tablets that then were dried in the sun or baked in an oven worked, and some of these writings have survived for many thousands of years.

Ink, lead (graphite) pencils, and then typewriters were all great improvements in usability. Computers have brought us video screen displays, graphics, video, touch screens, voice I/O, and routine access to the Web, now the world’s largest library. Thus, one would certainly expect that students would benefit from these vastly improved aids to written communication.


An Article in eCampus News

Laura Devancy’s recent article, Overwhelming Proof? Research Shows 3 Ways Going Digital Improves Student Performance, caught my attention (Devaney,11/14/2016). Quoting from her article:

Multiple studies reveal that digital learning materials improve college students’ performance, leading to higher exam scores, better grades, and fewer class withdrawals, according to the Association of American Publishers (AAP). Students are also chiming in, saying they agree.

While I don’t disagree with this assertion, I certainly want the article to “show me the evidence.” The first part of the article refers to studies done by and/or funded by publishing companies Centage, Macmillan, McGraw-Hill, Norton, Pearson, and Wiley. Each refers to a study of a particular instructional package that the company is trying to promote. My discerning readers will likely be suspicious of these results, as the companies have vested interests in their materials being “proven” to be effective.

I become more confident of the results as I see references to studies done by people and organizations who have less vested interests in the results (Moursund & Sylwester, 10/9/2015). Remember, just because “the computer” or “the Web” says something, that does not make it true. Moreover, a study done on one of a company’s software products does not necessarily provide information about the effectiveness of other products from that company. An essential component of a good education is to learn to question and check the information sources that one uses.


Additional Cited Research

Quoting again from Devancy’s article:

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 percent while the number of students renting a digital textbook increased 100 percent, compared to Spring 2015 (Student Monitor, 2016). Textbooks—Key finding spring 2016). Retrieved 11/14/2016 from [Bold added for emphasis.]

This article provides information about students’ purchasing habits. It indicates, for example, that student spending on the general category of textbooks has increased in cost by only 13% during the past ten years. The document attributes this small overall spending increase to more use of less expensive textbook sources, renting rather than buying textbooks, and the use of ebooks.

This purchasing data does not provide research evidence on the effectiveness of the various types of materials that students are purchasing and/or using.


Final Remarks

In summary, the title of Devaney’s article caught my attention, and eCampus News has a decent reputation. However, the article would have been strengthened by the use of more research data.

For example, it would have been helpful to include data on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). These online courses typically make use of online materials. MOOCs are a large and rapidly growing component of higher education (Moursund, 10/26/2015). My 11/14/2016 Google search of the expression research on MOOCS yielded about 474, 000 results. Quoting from State of the MOOC 2015 (Online Course Report, 2016):

Despite this hefty resistance from public educators, MOOC providers like Coursera, Udacity, edX, and FutureLearn keep popping out courses left and right, although increasingly, with fees. Hosted by such illustrious institutions as Stanford, MIT, Yale, Harvard, and world-renowned international universities like Heidelberg, the Indian Institute of Technology, the Sorbonne and at least 563 other universities, the number of massive open online courses has exploded in recent years. Dhawal Shah, founder and CEO of MOOC discovery database, Class Central, has catalogued this staggering growth since 2011. Using his database in conjunction with rankings from U.S. News and World Report, we’ve found that the number of MOOCs has grown exponentially over the past several years. We also found that most MOOCs tend to group around the topmost schools on U.S. News’ “National University Rankings” list, meaning there is an unequal distribution of MOOCs among America’s colleges and universities, with schools below the Top 50 mark showing an average of 18 fewer MOOCs per university than those within the top 50.

References and Resources

Devaney, L. (11/14/2016). Overwhelming proof? Research shows 3 ways going digital improves student performance. eCampus News. Retrieved 11/14/2016

Moursund, D. (10/26/2015). Nearly 4,000 MOOCS. IAE Blog. Retrieved 2/29/2016 from

Moursund, D., & Sylwester, R., eds. (10/9/2015). Validity and Credibility of Information. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download a free Microsoft Word file from Download a free PDF file from

Online Course Report (2016). State of the MOOC 2016: A year of massive landscape change for Massive Open Online Courses. Retrieved 11/14/2016 from


A New Year’s R
Good Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment


Guest - David Moursund on Wednesday, 15 November 2017 02:23
Larry Cuban short summary about MOOCs

Larry Cuban has written extensively about methods that people are using to try to improve education. His November 2017 article provides a short summary of the progress that MOOCs have made. See

Larry Cuban has written extensively about methods that people are using to try to improve education. His November 2017 article provides a short summary of the progress that MOOCs have made. See
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Tuesday, 19 January 2021

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