As our world grows increasingly more digital, we find that the pace of technological advancement continues to accelerate. We’re at the start of a Fourth Industrial Revolution according to Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, and we’ve arrived at the start of this new age in less than half the time it took for the Third Industrial Revolution to occur.
Source: World Economic Forum, “What is the fourth industrial revolution?”
If you’re old enough, you’ll remember having to teach your grandparents how new tech like a VCR worked, or more recently, how to use apps on a smartphone. But technology has changed so quickly in the past 35 years that teenagers today are flummoxed by something as “ancient” as a rotary telephone. While certain moments like that video can capture just how quickly technology outpaces our ability to adapt to it, it’s not often in our everyday lives that we really stop to think about technology and how vastly it’s affecting us, it just is. That is, until that one day where you’re still using an outdated form of technology that everyone has moved on from and the problem becomes impossible to ignore.
You can find examples of virtually every industry being disrupted by tech, and what this means for organizations is that, just like people, if the institution does not embrace change or advancements in technology, it will lose touch with its customers and more importantly, increase its chances of failure.
Adapting to Technological Change in Higher Ed
Higher ed is not immune to this disruption, and a perfect example is the campus bookstore. As course materials become increasingly digital, the act of walking into a store, ordering an access code printed on a physical card, walking back to a computer, and then typing that code to access an eBook is not just a terrible customer experience, it makes no logical sense. It’s no surprise then that students are fleeing the campus bookstore to purchase course materials online, where a wider selection of formats, cheaper prices, and 24/7 ordering put the campus bookstore at a disadvantage. As more and more students struggle with affordability options at school, the campus bookstore likewise struggles not being able to give customers what they are asking for and as a result, declining year-over-year utilization.
As highlighted in our recent eGuide, Three Ways to Tackle Declining Book Sales, the two seismic shifts that have driven change in the higher ed course materials market - the world going digital and the difficulty to make a profit with physical bookstores - are trends that are here to stay.
If It Can Be Made Digitally, It Will Be
The development of devices such as smartboards and e-readers brought substantial changes to the publishing industry and therefore the education system as a whole. It is now easier to receive and share content without carrying around heavy books or stacks of papers and handwritten notes.
The way learning materials are created, published, and delivered is increasingly fragmented across multiple channels and formats, causing confusion and frustration for faculty and their students. With the proliferation of software solutions for every aspect of the academic experience, both faculty and students are having a harder time organizing and accessing all of the different course material formats across multiple classes and terms, resulting in an unfavorable and weakened student experience.
The digitization of education is here, the pace of which is rapidly increasing. Digital materials are easier to produce, easier to update, easier to access, and easier to pay for. Embracing digital material is no longer an option, it is a necessity.
Physical Stores Have An Inherent Disadvantage vs. Online Stores
Along with embracing digital, we must embrace the change in how all materials are purchased. Ever since the first secure online transaction was completed 25 years ago, by an online bookseller, eCommerce sales have grown into a $500 billion dollar business. With total online sales increasing 15% year over year, Amazon is the biggest player in the market with 40% of all eCommerce sales in the US. Not only has the internet allowed for the growth of this market, it has allowed consumers to have the purchasing power of price comparison shopping.
For decades, university students were forced to purchase textbooks and other course materials from the campus store which allowed bookstore providers and textbook publishers to inflate prices more than 1000% since 1977. When online retailers and rental services started to provide textbooks and materials at lower prices, more and more students started purchasing outside the bookstore. For students, there’s less and less of a need to visit the campus bookstore to purchase physical books when the contents can be purchased and accessed online from wherever they are.
One thing the effects of technology does give us is the opportunity to embrace change, to learn to adapt to the new normal. The first step in capturing any opportunity is being open to it. Be open to the opportunities that new technology can provide to your students and take actionable steps to implement services that are customized to support the future of your students and institution.