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

WASHINGTON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–#HigherEd–The Association of American Publishers (AAP) announced today that
multiple studies 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
    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

  • In addition to better
    (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
    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
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
  • 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

Increased Use of Digital Materials:

Recent studies from independent research firm Student
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.”

out more about Digital Learning Materials

About AAP

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) represents about four
hundred member organizations including major commercial, digital
learning and education and professional publishers alongside
independents, non-profits, university presses and scholarly societies.
We represent the industry’s priorities on policy, legislative and
regulatory issues regionally, nationally and worldwide. These include
the protection of intellectual property rights and worldwide copyright
enforcement, digital and new technology issues, funding for education
and libraries, tax and trade, censorship and literacy. Find us online at
or on twitter at @AmericanPublish.


Association of American Publishers

Marisa Bluestone /
/ (202) 220-4558