Developing a higher ed course-content strategy

What every institution needs to know about the future of learning materials

The traditional model of course content creation and distribution—textbooks written by faculty and publisher-produced—is being disrupted.

New digital players and learning content formats—such as courseware, open educational resources and adaptive (or personalized) learning—promise lower costs and better outcomes.

Based on a recent analysis of the course content ecosystem by the National Association of College Stores, here’s where course materials are heading—and how your campus store can help navigate the changes.

Expect a shift to digital

Our Student Watch surveys show students (and faculty) prefer print textbooks. But potential cost savings and enhanced learning experiences are fueling interest in the transition to digital—and ultimately to adaptive learning courseware and platform-based products. Other findings:

  • Digital content and learning products will continue to grow in the short term.
  • Institutions will begin exploring licensed courseware that integrates classroom lectures and discussion with content.
  • There will be a greater emphasis on improving student outcomes through personalized learning.

Content creators, producers and distributors will continue to proliferate. In the distribution channel, conditions will favor retail giants (with pricing negotiation leverage) and smaller, niche players (who can use localized customer, campus and industry knowledge to better serve students).

“Concierge services” (online or in-person) can guide students through content options and match those options to a student’s profile. It’s an example of value-added, personal assistance that smaller retailers can provide.

Multidimensional approach

The learning content ecosystem is in flux. But one thing is certain: Every institution will need to develop a multidimensional learning content strategy if the digital transition to is to proceed smoothly. Failure to do so will likely fragment the student experience as adoption rates vary from class to class, and new courseware is tested and discarded.

Unmanaged, a gap may open between courseware’s promising new capabilities and faculty’s reluctance to leverage them. This will frustrate students and lead to substantial underuse of the institution’s investments.

Changes in learning content and services will intersect with academic policy, technology, student privacy, teaching, instructional costs, course materials accessibility, incentives, revenue management, and more. Developing an effective strategy needs to include all relevant campus stakeholders and service providers.

Collaboration is key

In deciding what’s best, administrators, campus store leaders, IT staff, libraries and faculty should work together to come up with recommendations. Factors to consider as you evaluate organizational cost, revenue and value are:

  • The desired level of faculty and other campus-stakeholder involvement in creating learning content
  • Copyright, fair use, licensed use and compliance in an increasingly “open” world
  • Third-party solutions that may expand options for students and provide scalability but limit an institution’s control over content, pricing, revenues and service
  • Students wanting to buy and access course materials through their phones or tablets
  • Students’ ability to use financial aid to purchase materials

Decision makers

Campus store manager should play a key role in making decisions about course materials and related services. Here’s why:

  • Campus store professionals have deep knowledge of course material formats and delivery.
  • They have years of experience managing and sourcing multiple content providers.
  • The store is a logical organizer for campus discussions about learning content strategy. It is connected to students, faculty, content creators and other campus service centers such as the library and IT.
  • The store is knowledgeable about the market, contracts and other variables that affect the economics of course materials sales and content licensing.

Campus stores are well positioned to play a leading role in envisioning, sourcing, brokering and delivering student learning content for their institution, but they need institutional support to make this happen. For more information on this analysis, visit

Tony Ellis is vice president of industry advancement for the National Association of College Stores, based in Oberlin, Ohio.


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