open content

Next Gen Learning Challenges Announced

Diana Oblinger, the President of EDUCAUSE, today announced the Next Gen Learning Challenges program. Information about the program, including the involvement of the Gates and Hewlett Foundations, is included in Diane’s announcement letter below. I’m humbled to serve on the Advisory Panel for the program, and am deeply interested in the topics of the first set of challenges identified for grant-making:

  • Challenge 1: Open Core Courseware
    Expand access to high-quality, openly licensed courseware for developmental and general education.
  • Challenge 2: Web 2.0 Engagement
    Integrate interactive Web 2.0 approaches to stimulate deeper learning and ultimately improve college readiness and completion.
  • Challenge 3: Blended Learning
    Expand the use of established, effective online and face-to-face learning models on a cost-effective basis.
  • Challenge 4: Learning Analytics
    Foster the development and implementation of easily accessible learning analytics for those directly involved in student success.

The announcement reads:

I would like to introduce you to a new program designed to improve college readiness and completion. The Next Gen Learning Challenges will provide grants, build evidence of what works, and develop an active community committed to helping young adults prepare for college and complete their postsecondary education. You will find more information at

The program seeks to identify and scale technology-enabled approaches that dramatically improve college readiness and completion, particularly for low-income young adults. The partners for this initiative are the Gates Foundation, the League for Innovation in the Community College, the International Association of K-12 Online Learning, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

The rationale for the program is compelling. Only half of high school graduates leave school prepared to succeed in college. For those who do enroll in postsecondary education, a little over half of them will actually earn a degree. Positions requiring postsecondary education or training will make up 64 percent of all job openings by 2018. Today it is virtually impossible to reach the middle class, and stay there, with only a high school diploma. By age 30, fewer than half of all Americans have earned a college degree. America must improve college readiness and completion—our society and our economy depend on it. Technology can be a key tool for making learning more flexible, engaging, and affordable?important elements in helping today’s high school and college students achieve academic success.

The next several weeks are a “Request for Comments” period during which the community is invited to share knowledge and comment to help refine the initial phase of the program. I invite you to:

– visit the Next Gen Learning Challenges website ( to learn about college readiness and completion in the United States
– contribute research, resources, and perspectives on the Next Gen Learning Challenges
– engage in discussion forums targeting key questions

I hope you will join the conversation.

open content

Aggregating Research on Sustainability

As many of you know, my empirical work at BYU has focused largely on issues of sustainability. I’ve blogged some of it before, but to wrap it up in one spot, here is a recap of what we’ve been up to.

Justin Johansen and I did some interesting work on OCW sustainability, examining what happens when opportunities to enroll in for-credit courses are integrated into OCW. The results – over 2.5% of OCW visitors became paying for-credit customers of BYU Independent Study, generating enough revenue to more than pay for the cost of opening access to the courses. An article version of the dissertation, with a few months more data, is forthcoming in Educational Technology Research and Development.

John Hilton and I asked the question “What happens to printed book sales if digital versions are given away for free?” We then tracked 41 books for which we could identify the date when the free digital versions of the books were made available to determine whether the release of the free version affected print sales. This work appeared in the Journal of Electronic Publishing, and is described more extensively (with a link to the full text) at The results – three of the four categories of books had increased sales after the free books were distributed (and we think we know what happened with the fourth).

Next, John Hilton and I recently interviewed 10 authors (who were mostly academics) that have made their works available for free and got their take on the implications of sharing their books online. This article also includes a case study that measures sales of a book for the year before and after it was made available for free. An overview of the article, as well as a link to the full text, can be found at: The results – no authors perceived a drop in sales and most reported that giving away their ebook increased their reach / audience. This article appeared in Tech Trends.

Finally (for now), in a follow-up study that strengthened some weaknesses in the original, John Hilton completed his dissertation which also focused on giving away e-books. This study measured sales of 8 titles for 10 weeks before and after they were made available for free. Historical sales (from the year previous) as well as comparison books (that were not made available for free) are also examined. The study also includes download data for the books. An overview, as well as a link to the complete dissertation, can be found at: The results – A 0.65 correlation between downloads and sales, meaning that books that were downloaded more often were also purchased in print more often.

John and I are currently working on an article based on the dissertation and a follow-up study suggested in the dissertation. We’re also looking for a medium to large size publisher who would be willing to do a replication of the dissertation research (with improvements for lessons learned, of course) at a larger scale. If you know of someone who might be game, let us know.


Sales Impact of Free eBooks Dissertation Published

Dr. John Hilton, who until just recently was a doctoral student of mine, has written a great dissertation on the impact giving away free ebooks has on sales of printed books. The findings may surprise you. Here’s a repost of the description from his blog:

I’ve posted on my dissertation before. The full version is now available here. Here’s a little summary of what the dissertation is all about.


Deseret Book placed eight books online for free download. All of these were “backlist” titles. This study tracked what happened as a result of those books being available.


The books were placed online September 9, 2009. This study compares sales of these books the ten weeks before they were available for free with the ten weeks after.


During the ten weeks of the study the books were downloaded 102,556 times. Collectively, the books sold 68 more copies in the ten weeks they were online for free versus the ten previous weeks. This was an increase in sales of 26%. Over the same period of time in 2008, sales of these same books decreased by 38%. Furthermore, a study of comparison titles that were not put online for free found that sales of comparison books decreased both in 2008 and 2009, as illustrated below.

Featured Books Comparison Books
2009 26% -16%
2008 -38% -6%

Thus the increase in sales of the eight featured books in 2009 seems attributable to their being available for free.

Other interesting findings include the following: Visits to the online product pages of the free books increased 1,085% during the study. Some weeks, hits to represented almost 3% of total traffic to (note: the books are still available, but now require registration. They did not during the experimental period of the dissertation). During the ten weeks of the study more people entered through than any other page (except the home page). All this happened with very little advertising. Though the impact of this additional web traffic was not quantified, it seems that the value of increasing awareness of could be significant.

There was a moderately strong correlation (r=.65) between downloads and Internet print sales (the more books that were downloaded, the more books were purchased online). Thus if more books had been available and downloaded the number of additional books sold would likely have increased.

Another interesting point is that the authors of the books made available seemed very pleased with the additional exposure their books received. One of the eight books studied was out of print. This book was downloaded 14,914 times and its product page received 834 hits. This may indicate a lingering interest in out-of-print books, and may validate a “long tail” approach to book sales.


One limitation of the present study is the relatively small number of books studied, and that the sales of these books were relatively small. The study could also have been strengthened if it were of a longer duration.

One area that remains to be researched is the perspective of the authors whose books were downloaded. In informal conversations with the authors whose books were used in this study, they expressed positive feelings about their work being disseminated more widely. It may be that authors, particularly those with books that are not currently selling well, would desire the increased exposure to the work that free digital downloads might bring.

Although this study provides some interesting results, there are many other questions to be considered. One question that might arise is, “What would have happened if the e-books had been for sale for 99 cents each?” If 10% of the people who downloaded the books for free would have paid 99 cents for the e-books, that would have provided a nice profit for Deseret Book. While it is possible that some people would have paid 99 cents for the e-books, it seems likely that people would have been less inclined to e-mail friends and blog about a “99-cent” offer than a “free” offer.” Future studies are needed to determine how many downloads would occur if they were very inexpensive instead of free.

Another aspect that should be considered is how much the popularity of electronic book devices (such as the Kindle or iPad) will change people’s proclivities to read digital books. Perhaps most important, if publishers made all or most of their books available for free digital consumption, would that have an overall negative effect on sales? In other words, in the present study the seven books saw increased sales, likely due to the special attention they received from being downloaded 102,556 times. If all books were available for free online would they see this same sales benefit? Obviously not.

So, much more to think about and explore! Hopefully this dissertation will be a part of an ongoing conversation. They said nobody ever reads dissertations … prove them wrong … go read it!