Shorter, Open Texts Increase Learning

12:00 AM on May 14, 2019 | Product News computer science C-Books

Textbooks are outdated

Students had very limited access to information when textbooks first became an educational tool—so they needed to include anything deemed relevant to a given subject. With access to more information than most libraries in their pockets, it no longer makes sense for students to lug around heavy, expensive physical textbooks.

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Two overarching barriers—lack of access due to prohibitive costs and length—make traditional textbooks outdated, inefficient learning resources.

Quantifying the Textbook Problem

  • Length
    • “94% of students spend less than two hours per reading assignment.” [1]
  • Lack of access/cost
    • “Student acquisition rates of required college textbooks continues to drop with 65% of students at least once not purchasing a required textbook.” [2]
    • “22% of students do not purchase the required textbook.” [2]

“Noting high costs and low usage rates, some teachers have stopped requiring textbooks.” [2] So, what should teachers use instead?

Free and Open Resources

Teachers are increasingly “relying…on various sources like miscellaneous web resources and instructor notes.” [2] This DIY approach to crafting a custom learning experience gives control back to the teacher.

Research even “shows greater student retention and performance when faculty members become more engaged with the classroom materials.” [4]

In addition to saving money and being more effective, free and open resources are hosted on the web, meaning students can access learning materials any time and on a multitude of platforms. Furthermore, electronic publishing means resources can be more easily updated. In fact, in a 2012 survey, 78% responded that OER provided access to more up-to-date material than is available in print textbooks. [5]

Less Text

Research has started to find that the old adage “less is more” is true for instructional text.

Less text (meaning approximately 50% of the original):

  • Improves aspects such as completion time, amount remembered, and student satisfaction by 58%.[3]
  • Increases student understanding for secondary language learners. [Leow 1997, as cited in 1]
  • Doubles learning gains between pre and post tests. [1]
  • Raised student satisfaction by 26%. [1]

“One of the problems I saw was the books. They were too big, with too much unnecessary detail...and not enough high-level guidance...I decided to write my own book. My goals were: Keep it short. It is better for students to read 10 pages than not read 50. ….it worked. Students did the reading.” - Allen Downey [6]

Codio provides customizable open texts 

  • Customize for your class: Codio content can be fully edited, allowing you to remove extraneous topics and text 
  • Infinite access: Open Education Resources (OERs) are freely available

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[1] Edgcomb, A., Vahid, F., & Lysecky, R. (2015, October). Students learn more with less text that covers the same core topics. In 2015 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE) (pp. 1-5). IEEE.

[2] Edgcomb, A., Vahid, F., Lysecky, R., Knoesen, A., Amirtharajah, R., & Dorf, M. L. (2015, June). Student performance improvement using interactive textbooks: A three-university cross-semester analysis. In the Proceedings of the ASEE Annual Meeting.

[3] Nielsen, J. (1997, October 1). How Users Read on the Web. Retrieved May 14, 2019, from

[4] Open Text Books: Making education more accessible. (n.d.). Retrieved May 14, 2019, from

[5] Feldstein, A., Martin, M., Hudson, A., Warren, K., Hilton III, J., & Wiley, D. (2012). Open textbooks and increased student access and outcomes. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, 15(2).

[6] Downey, A. B. (2016). Think Python. Sebastopol, CA: OReilly.

Elise Deitrick

Elise is Codio's VP of Product & Partnerships. She believes in making quality educational experiences available to everyone. With a BS in Computer Science and a PhD in STEM Education, she has spent the last several years teaching robotics, computer science and engineering. Elise now uses that experience and expertise to shape Codio's product and content.