How to Select the Right Textbook for an Online Course

A good textbook is crucial to an online course. Because so much of an online instructor’s interaction is based largely on e-mail, chat, or online discussion boards and groups, the textbook must provide structure and deliver the course content.

Here are some things to consider when evaluating an online course textbook:

Coverage of course topics and objectives: The first criterion is whether the textbook covers the topic, course objectives, and outcomes established by the instructor. A review of a textbook’s table of contents, learning objectives, chapter summaries, and the author’s website contents provides a basis for matching the course objectives to the textbook approach, content, and resources.

Readability: In an online course, the textbook must provide clear definition of the concepts, good chapter summaries, annotated notes, and resources for further learning. In addition, effective animation, graphics, and tables help students grasp the course material quickly.

Clear examples and instructions: The use of practical, easily understood, real-world cases and examples are important to explain and reinforce concepts covered in the online course. Explanation of processes must be graphically illustrated and should provide step-by-step instructions to guide the student’s understanding of processes and outcomes.

Supplies abundant learning material: Well-constructed exercises, projects, simulations, real-world applications, and practice quizzes allow students to demonstrate that they understand the course concepts and are able to apply them to everyday situations. It is also essential in online learning that the textbook provides a full range of Web resources to enhance the learning of the course material.
Currency: The textbook author should provide current cases and links and periodic chat sessions to update the course material, cases, and real-world applications as needed.

Cost: Some options that an instructor might pursue to keep the textbooks costs reasonable are to use e-books or to customize the textbooks with only selected topics. Some publishers allow instructors to “cherry-pick” the chapters they want instead of assigning the entire book to students. Softcover books are another option.

Adapted from Free Resources That Streamline Online Course Development and Implementation, Distance Education Report, August 15, 2007.

Guy Lochiatto is a professor at MassBay Community College.