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The Varsavsky Foundation
Avenida Bruselas 7, Planta 3
28100 Alcobendas
Madrid, Spain

The political blog of a social entrepreneur

Online Learning vs. Textbook Learning

1. Textbooks will not be profitable and therefore will not be published at all if a certain, minimum amount of demand for them does not exist. Therefore, textbooks are published on fewer subjects than they could be and tend to be very general in scope. Information can be published on the Internet without regard for the price of printing and distribution or the size of the potential audience. Information on the Internet can cover a broader range of esoteric subjects for this reason.

2. The smaller a country, the less likely the textbooks used in its classrooms were written in that country. On the Internet, local authors can publish material on all subjects in a manner appropriate for their own country.

3. Textbooks become obsolete almost immediately after publication and cannot be updated until the next printing. Information on-line can be updated daily and any errors in printing can be corrected immediately.

4. Textbooks require paper that requires the cutting down of trees. On-line learning is not harmful to the environment.

5. It is often easier to use educational web sites than textbooks. For example, very young children who cannot read can still learn by looking at pictures and images that resemble to real world in which they live. Textbooks are not introduced to children until they are 8, but the Internet can be useful from age 4.

6. Textbooks are limited to the information on their pages whereas educational web sites can link to an infinite number of other educational sites to elaborate in as much detail as necessary particular points or to offer supplemental information on related points. With textbooks, teachers may only assign reading from set pages, but with the Internet they can recommend several sites and can do so through a mass e-mail to their students or by posting assignments on a personal, universally accessible site.

7. Every PC is like an entire library whereas every textbook is only one book. In a textbook, students can jump from page to page but on-line they can jump from book to book.

8. When the objective is to read a book from cover to cover, as with works of literature, books have the advantage of being more portable than a PC, but when a book is meant only for consultation, on-line information is cheaper and not as heavy. An extreme example would be encyclopedias.

9. Textbooks are authoritative and do not leave room for student opinion. The Internet is interactive and permits students and others to enter a dialogue on different subjects.

10. Textbooks are limited to the points of view of their authors. The Internet allows multiple view points, which is essential for fostering critical thinking, especially if the author is incorrect about a particular assertion.

11. Textbooks are very expensive. In Argentina for example, textbooks cost an average of $22 each, for 7 subjects per year, for several years of school. Many students attempt to circumvent the requirement of paying these amounts by photo-copying pages, which also ends up being expensive and leaving authors without due royalties. On-line learning requires only the initial cost for the hardware and a monthly connection fee which does not increase no matter how many students use it and how many different sites they visit. Authors rights are more easily protected on-line as well.

12. Textbooks take up a lot of space whereas every book in the world can fit into one small PC. Even the American Library of Congress is using PCs to store books now.

13. A lap top weighs less than one or two textbooks and holds infinitely more information.

14. Textbooks have no sound, the Internet does. This is particularly useful for students of language who can not only learn to read and write foreign words, but to pronounce them correctly. This is also exceptionally helpful for students of music.

15. Textbooks do not have animation, the Internet does.

16. Textbooks do not have video clips, the Internet does.

17. Textbooks cannot evaluate and correct a student performance on quizzes or questions, the Internet can.

18. If a student is reading a textbook and does not understand something, there is no one he or she may ask. On-line, tutors and 24 hour experts can be available to answer questions.

19. Teachers and parents have know way of knowing whether students ever read their textbooks but they can keep track of all visits to educational web sites.

20. Students studying on-line can see when other students are on-line and can communicate with them. Students studying from textbooks cannot do this. They of course meet to discuss the texts, but ironically, not in the public library where rules of silence must be respected.

21. Students studying on-line can exchange ideas with other students and people from all over the world and get information directly from primary sources.

Posted on February 7, 2005