5 Things to Look For If Selecting Online Materials

Recently, at a friend’s birthday party, the conversation quickly turned to back-to-school issues. Several friends began discussing their school district’s continuing adoption of online materials. One friend commented that when her older son’s school had moved to online materials almost exclusively last year, he did fine in his Economics class but really struggled in Physics. She told him to check out a textbook for that course, and almost immediately, his grades improved. My friends then began comparing how their children each learn and debating the relative virtues of printed versus online materials.

That conversation reminded me of the blog post we published recently about a Hechinger Report article titled, “A Textbook Dilemma: Digital or Paper?” Several of the points in this article align with distinguishing features we observe in our reviews of online materials. 

If your district is considering online materials, here are five features that may speak to the likely impact those materials will have on students’ comprehension and learning:

  • Density of text: Will students have to read extensively or are there videos and other features to support student learning of key concepts?
  • Distracting Content:  Does the product feature ads, graphics, colors, or other content that will divert students’ attention and/or detract from the instruction?
  • “Chunking” of Instruction: How frequently are activities and checks for understanding embedded in the instruction to help students process what they have read? How well does the material employ the use of text features to support comprehension?
  • Available Adaptions: Does the material contain the adaptions your students need to access and understand the text? For example, can text be enlarged? Does the material provide a text-to-speech reader? Can the text be leveled up or down?
  •  Compatibility: Does the core instruction and do the online tools students will need to complete the course work on the devices and/or the LMS your students will be using?

As online instructional materials become more prevalent, parents and teachers around the globe will undoubtedly continue to debate whether their children learn better from print versus digital materials. Research on this topic is sure to continue, too, and as it does, digital instructional materials will evolve.  And, Learning List’s reviews will continue to highlight the features that districts need to focus on in determining which materials will meet their students’ needs best.