Designing the $10 Textbook
At TEL Library, our mission is to develop high-quality learning content that is both affordable for students and self-sustaining from a business perspective. We want to make a difference by making learning affordable. At the same time, we want our company impact to be long-lasting and far-reaching, which means having sustainable development processes and business models.

We design our products as part of a larger curriculum, which at the content level is represented by our library of Stackable LessonsTM. Each of these lessons represents a self-contained, stand-alone learning environment that provides instruction related to a concept in one of our general education subject areas.

TEL Library products — certificate courses, college-level courses, and textbooks — are a scaffolded collection of these Stackable LessonsTM with additional learning supplements and assessments.

 

But How Much Should a Textbook Cost?

When it comes to learning materials, the product most people use to benchmark pricing is the traditional textbook. Economist Mark Perry, with his “chart of the century,” provides a clear picture of the price of textbooks over the past 20 years compared to other consumer goods.

Compared to the selected goods and services Perry tracks on his chart, only the price of hospital services has outpaced textbooks. Running a close third is college tuition.

Of course, more than anything, a chart like this simply confirms what we already know. Textbooks are expensive. College tuition is expensive.

The real question is, “What should a textbook cost.” How can we define “affordable” when it comes to learning materials?

At TEL Library, we define affordability as the price someone in a specific market can afford to pay for our products with minimal assistance and without incurring debt. For textbooks, we think about the student working and attending college part-time. How much can that student afford to pay for a Psychology or Biology textbook?

We believe the affordable price for such general education textbooks is around $10.

For $10 a student should have general education textbooks that contain media, engaging reading materials, interactivities, quizzing, learning resources, and study tools.

 

Designing, Delivering, and Refining High-Quality Textbooks for $10

But how can we create high-quality textbooks and offer them for $9.99 and still be able to sustain and scale our organization?

It’s all about design and process. More specifically, it’s about (1) curriculum and information design, (2) learning design, (3) platform design, and (4) content design and development.

 

Design Phase

At TEL Library, we begin product development with a rigorous design phase focused on product flexibility, quality, and efficacy. This phase ensures that we have a clear product purpose and integrated product framework in place before we begin building our mediabooks.

Curriculum and Information Design: We create each course as part of a larger curriculum rather than as a siloed, disconnected product. This entails identifying concepts across a curriculum area, analyzing concept relatedness within that area, and ensuring that we are maximizing potential connectedness of our content across the entire curriculum. This process involves the build out of concept taxonomies and rules for our concepts, as well as the ongoing evaluation of concept usage by instructors and learners.

Learning Design: The learning design phase consists of two stages — content design and learning environment design. From a content perspective, each of our courses consists of sequenced collections of Stackable LessonsTM, each aligned to specific topics, learning outcomes, and Bloom’s taxonomy learning levels mapped in a course outline. Lessons are grouped into thematic modules, with each course containing 12-14 modules.

Our subject matter experts and learning designers work in this stage to create a course outline that will serve as the content and assessment map for the course.

In addition, our learning design team creates a common learning environment model or template for course lessons. This model is designed to move learners from contextualization to agency and mastery.

Platform Design: In our platform design work for each course, we ask how technology can be utilized to reinforce the effectiveness of our content and learning design. How does it support ownership of the learning process? How can it promote individual exploration and application of information? How does it deliver flexible ease of use? How do we deliver digital and print formats, allow learners to work online or offline? How do we ensure that our media books are accessible to everyone? These questions guide the development of our technology solutions as well as our broader thinking about content delivery and access.

Product Design: The core TEL Library product is our Stackable LessonTM. This is a self-contained learning experience designed to guide students toward ownership and mastery of a specific topic or concept. Our unique design makes it easy to reuse or recombine lessons from the same curriculum area, as well as build collections across curriculum areas, without having to rewrite or customize individual lessons. This innovative approach to content creation also affords TEL Library significant time and cost efficiencies with regards to product development.

Process Design: The design phase also includes extensive process design, which allows our teams to coordinate efforts and maximize efficiencies. This results in tighter integration between content creation, editing, and production, as well as strong quality assurance and shorter development timelines overall.

 

Production and Implementation Phase

After completing the design phase, we begin the actual product construction process.

Content Curation and Authoring: This phase begins, naturally, with content. TEL Library works with internal and external subject matter experts to curate open materials and to author original lesson content. Authors work within the learning design parameters of our Stackable LessonsTM model, which requires all content to be authored or adjusted to meet the requirements of our learning environment design. TEL Library’s use of a consistent content authoring model, along with its combination of internal and external content contributors, allows the company to produce draft lessons quickly and efficiently.

Editorial and Quality Assurance: Our editorial team takes a layered approach to the editing and development of lesson content. This begins with initial copyediting and product checks for length, voice, and general consistency. Next, developmental editors complete a thorough review and development pass. This includes fact-checking and term normalization, work on content consistency and flow, and ensuring that a lesson adheres to core learning design principles and outcomes.

Media Design and Production: As soon as content is submitted to editorial, we begin simultaneous activity related to media development and media curation. TEL Library creates unique learning video content for each lesson. In addition, our media and production teams begin curating and creating images or other media assets while editorial works through its content development process.

Final Production and Implementation: Our Stackable LessonsTM model allows us to produce individual lessons immediately as they are released by the editorial team. Moreover, since each lesson is its own independent learning container, the production team can work on lessons in any sequence, always looking for maximum efficiency. This flexibility also extends to the production of specific product components, such as printable versions of each lesson.

 

Iteration and Improvement Phase

Because TEL Library is building a library focused on a general education curriculum, we can employ a product development model based on the principle of initial release and continual improvement.

User Feedback and Iteration: TEL Library encourages users to provide feedback on specific content or features at the point of use. In addition, we send surveys to TEL Library patrons, asking about the efficacy of specific lessons and lesson features. We also evaluate anonymous, aggregated usage data to validate internal assumptions about content and features.

As feedback is received, product and editorial teams meet and work to make updates. In addition, the TEL Library curriculum team conducts ongoing content reviews to look for areas of improvement or expansion. This teams also organizes outside reviews on a regular basis to ensure that all content in their assigned section is accurate and meets customer needs. Our product model and technology platform allow such changes to be implemented quickly and continually.

Market Research: The company is also committed to working with advisory teams — instructors, teachers, and curriculum developers — from each curriculum area to address the question, “How can we improve teaching and learning in our mediabooks?” Our goal is to engage in frequent, ongoing dialogues to help us work diligently to provide products that improve constantly.

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