October 28, 2016

The future of learning content – and campus bookstores

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Bookstore line-up

Ellis, T. (2016) Developing a course content strategy University Business, February

This article has made me realise the still massive difference between what actually happens on campus and the future we are moving to. This article is written primarily for campus book store managers and makes me think that they don’t know what’s going to hit them over the next few years.

The article was based on a survey that came to the following conclusion:

students and faculty prefer printed textbooks but cost and enhanced learning experiences are fuelling interest in the transition to digital and ultimately to adaptive learning courseware and platform-based products… content creators… will continue to proliferate…conditions will favor retail giants and smaller niche players

The article then goes on (not surprisingly) to argue that campus store managers should play a key role in making decisions about course materials and related services.

Why they are in for a shock

We’ve already seen that BCcampus has now developed online, open textbooks for most of the core curriculum for first and second year university and college courses, saving students over $1 million in text book costs. How long before other jurisdictions move in this direction?

Secondly, increasing amounts of research, data and learning materials are now available through open access journals. Increasingly ‘niche’ textbooks for more advanced or higher level courses will also be available online through Amazon, Apple and other ‘retail giants’ – or delivered to the student’s door. Faculty and students will increasingly use online open educational resources as content. And finally, faculty and instructors will increasingly move away from recommending ‘packaged’ content to getting learners to find, analyse, integrate and evaluate the massive amount of content that will be freely available over the Internet, thus facilitating the development of learners fit for a knowledge-based society.

So the day when students have to queue for hours in the book store for the first few days of the semester should become a distant memory, as soon as possible. More seriously, why then would book store managers be involved in decisions about learning content any more?

Sure there will always be a role for a store on campus, and it may have a very small section for niche books, but campus ‘book stores’ will soon be as outdated as typewriters.


  1. My column in University Business alerts university administrators – the publication’s core audience – to the important changes occurring in the learning content ecosystem. It offers insights the National Association of College Stores (NACS) gained through primary and secondary research (not a single survey) with faculty, libraries, campus IT, content creators, publishers, students, and campus store professionals alike. The analysis, Mapping the Learning Content Ecosystem, looks at the implications for everyone involved, not just campus stores, and provides suggestions for the entire industry.

    Campus stores offer more than traditional print textbooks – and have for quite some time. In sharp contrast to the typewriter analogy, they have continually adapted to emerging needs, offering a variety of course materials – including printed and digital editions, OER, and courseware – to meet the needs of today’s students while recognizing and investing in the shift to digital you reference. College stores partner with several OER providers, including industry leaders such as OpenStax, to make these materials more discoverable to faculty and accessible to students at an affordable price. They also print copies of digital assets for students that chose/prefer such, and ensure materials selected by faculty are available in appropriate formats for students with learning disabilities. Their ability to evolve and meet the course content needs of their institutions make campus stores a natural collaborator with administrators and other campus colleagues when discussions occur about the future of course materials.

    Campus store professionals have deep knowledge of all course material formats and delivery mechanisms as well as years of experience managing and sourcing multiple content providers. This is why we believe they should play a key role in making decisions about course materials and related services supporting student success in the future. Their knowledge, and passion for serving students, is a significant institutional asset that should be tapped by administrators when exploring delivery models and options for sourcing and providing course materials – in whatever form.

    For more information on the NACS analysis, Mapping the Learning Content Ecosystem, please visit ecosystem.nacs.org.

    Tony Ellis
    Vice President, Industry Advancement
    National Association of College Stores
    Oberlin, Ohio

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