Is electronic study notes a good idea?

On the face of it, it sounds a good idea. It certainly may be for individual "self-studiers" who own a kindle, a kobo or an iPad, and who want to save some money on the shipping of a set of hard copy study notes - from UK to some far distant lands, we are talking about £5-600 of savings on shipping alone, on a complete set of Modular (1-17) Study Notes.

But what about training organisations?  We frequently get requests from training organisations to supply a number of PDF versions of our Study Notes, one for each of their students, to whom will be loaned an iPad or some other type of eReader.

It really does appear like a big saving in the long term, saving printing costs as well as possibly shipping costs also. But let's look at the facts  more carefully:

Let's say you run some kind of apprenticeship programme, you have up to 20 people per class, and a 4 year programme, so you need 80 iPads.  Assuming you do a deal with your local Apple store, and get them for £250 each, that's an initial outlay of £20,000. A cheaper Kobo eReader you might get for £60, that will be an initial outlay of £4,800.

You can reckon on about a 5% replacement rate per year, as your students will lose the devices, have them stolen, leave them on the bus, drop them etc.  And then there is the necessity to upgrade them to the latest models, or at least replace the batteries, perhaps every 5 years.

The overhead costs of iPad management can, to some extent, be avoided, by GIVING the iPads to the students - to keep, even after the course to which they are subscribed, has been completed.  One of our clients calculated that the printing costs for all 14 Modules that they needed to study over a 4 year B1 programme, was €500 per student, and the cost of a "give-away" iPad was €300 per student, with the added "feel-good" factor that a free iPad provides for the student.

On a negative side, we have also heard from one company who trialled the Ereader route a while ago.  They cancelled the scheme after they discovered that their students actually don't like to read from a screen, and much prefer the print-on-paper option, and were printing out their 2000-page study notes using the little office printer, which cost their company many times more than it would have cost had their company got the printing done at the regular reprographics super print centre.

You also have considerable administration overhead - keeping 80 iPads charged and maintained, loading the  eBooks onto each device, administering a deposit system, administering a loan system, these are all additional workloads that you don't have to worry about with paper copies.

To save on printing, there are alternatives to the eBook version. For example, buy 20 copies of each Module in Durable version paper copy (or design your own build style - clip folder bound, heavyweight paper etc.) and they can be loaned to your students on a rolling rota, and they will last perhaps 10 years, or more, without anywhere near the administration overhead cost of the eReader devices. And the initial outlay will still be less than that of the eReader devices.

So here are some pros and cons of the electronic version:

Pros:

  • No printing cost
  • No shipping cost
  • Full colour
  • More portable

Cons:

  • Harder to read
  • Students cannot keep them after the course
  • eReader devices more likely to be stolen or lost
  • eReader devices require maintenance and periodic upgrade
  • Large initial expense
  • High administration cost

Please feel free to discuss this article, and add your viewpoint, on the question system below.