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Blended Learning | Digital Curriculum | Teaching Strategies

Digital Curriculum vs. Textbooks: Which Is Right for You?

July 16th, 2019 | 8 min. read

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Digital curriculum is becoming a popular option for many career and technical education (CTE) teachers.

Thousands of CTE teachers have made the switch to digital curriculum, but other teachers prefer to stick with traditional textbooks.

How can you be sure you’re picking the right instructional material?

Overall, there are four major aspects to consider when choosing between textbooks and digital curriculum:

  1. Ease of implementation
  2. Student engagement
  3. Accuracy of information
  4. Differentiation

In this article, we’ll put textbooks head to head with digital curriculum in each category.

Category 1: Ease of Implementation


When deciding on a new instructional resource, one of the most important aspects to consider is how easily you’ll be able to implement it in your classroom.

This is especially true for CTE instructors who haven’t taught before.

So how do textbooks and digital curriculum measure up?

Implementing Textbooks

A textbook is one of the most comfortable options for CTE teachers. That’s because many teachers learned from textbooks themselves.

Textbooks are also very straightforward -- you have a physical book segmented into units and chapters focused on specific topics and skills.

This makes it easy to jump in and start using a textbook very quickly.

However, when using a textbook, you’ll need to consider how many additional materials you’ll need.

Some textbooks include extra resources like student workbooks, but that isn’t true for all of them. For some, you may wind up shelling out for the textbook only.

Depending on the book you choose, you may need to spend extra time creating classroom resources to actually teach your lessons and assess student learning.

Implementing Digital Curriculum

A digital curriculum is designed to be intuitive and easy to use for any CTE teacher.

But it can be intimidating to use a digital resource if you’ve never done so before!

Compared to a textbook, a digital curriculum will have a bit of a learning curve to it.

Digital curriculum contains every tool and resource you’ll need to teach your lessons. That includes lesson plans, class activities, rubrics, assessments, automatic grading tools, and more.

Though it will take a little time to learn the ins-and-outs, these resources can ultimately make the overall implementation much easier.

To help with implementation, digital curriculum developers provide an abundance of resources and support.

Which Is Easier to Implement?

Both textbooks and digital curriculum have pros and cons when it comes to implementation.

Textbooks are straightforward and easy to use, but often need a lot of supporting materials.

Digital curriculum has more of a learning curve, but the abundance of resources can make your life easier in the long run.

Category 2: Student Engagement


One of the biggest challenges for CTE teachers is keeping students engaged.

When engaging students, it’s hard to pinpoint what works and what doesn’t.

However, you can improve engagement by using a variety of teaching strategies and blended learning.

So when it comes to blending strategies to increase engagement, how do your options stack up?

Engaging Students with Textbooks

As we’ve mentioned, what you see is what you get when you deal with textbooks.

Unfortunately, textbooks haven’t changed their presentation much in the past few decades. They feature some diagrams, a couple ideas for teaching, and a whole lot of words stacked on top of one another.  

Though all of the information you want to teach is there, reading page after page can become monotonous for even your most attentive students.

Some textbooks include related activities, but you’ll need to create a lot of your own resources to keep students engaged in the material.

Engaging Students with Digital Curriculum

At its core, digital curriculum is designed to be interactive and engaging for every student.

That’s because it’s built according to the four phases of learning and includes a variety of classroom resources.

You’ll find introduction activities, interactive lessons, both formative and summative assessments, hands-on activities, and more.

These resources are designed to engage students with critical thinking and scenario-based learning.

The only time a student will not be engaged when learning through digital curriculum is if a teacher skips the supplemental resources and only assigns the digital lessons!

Which Is More Engaging?

When it comes to keeping students engaged, digital curriculum wins by a landslide.

You can certainly find ways to include engaging activities in your lessons when using a textbook.

But side-by-side, digital curriculum provides more variety and engaging opportunities than textbooks.

Category 3: Accuracy of Information


For CTE courses focused on ever-changing industries like healthcare and information technology, teaching accurate, up-to-date lessons is crucial.

That’s why it’s important to consider the accuracy of your instructional materials!

Accuracy of Textbooks

When textbooks are first written, they’re one of them most relevant, up-to-date teaching resources out there.

But because textbooks are only printed once, they can become outdated nearly overnight!

To overcome this, some textbook publishers publish new versions of their books only a regular basis.

The theory behind this is great, but it means you’ll have to purchase new books every single year if you want the latest information.

However, most textbooks aren’t updated on a yearly basis. In fact, many popular health science textbooks are more than three years old!

Textbooks can have tons of good information.

But when using a textbook, you’ll need to review it and inform your students of any incorrect information.

Accuracy of Digital Curriculum

The fact that digital curriculum is an online resource means that it can be updated at any point.

Because of how digital curriculum is built, updates are seamlessly integrated into it without any interruption for teachers or students.

That means there’s no need to purchase a new version or install an update.

Updates are most commonly made when a course standard, certification exam, or technology changes.

In addition, if a teacher finds an error (anything from a typo to a missing image) the curriculum can be corrected in a snap!

Which Is More Up-to-Date?

Overall, digital curriculum is more up-to-date than textbooks.

Though new editions of textbooks are published, sometimes the time between editions can be years.

On the flip side, digital curriculum can be updated on a weekly basis without additional costs!

If you’re concerned about providing the most up to date information to your classes, digital curriculum will probably be your best choice.

But if you teach a class that doesn’t change much year to year, you may be able to scrape by with a book.

Category 4: Differentiation


CTE teachers often have classes filled with students who have different learning styles and knowledge.

To ensure all students succeed, it’s common to implement differentiated instruction.

It’s not easy to do, but differentiation can make a huge difference in your students’ outcomes!

Using Textbooks for Differentiated Instruction

Some teachers find textbooks can serve as a great base for a few types of differentiation.

One of the most common ways to differentiate with a textbook is flipping the classroom.

This involves students reading the book at home, taking notes, and jotting down questions about what they’ve read.

Then in class, you’ll summarize what was read, answer questions, and go more in-depth with the material.

You could even create a hands-on activity to reinforce what they learned.

The only downside to using a textbook for differentiation is it means a lot of extra work for the teacher to create the extra materials.

Using Digital Curriculum for Differentiated Instruction

CTE teachers have found an abundance of ways to differentiate their instruction with digital curriculum.

Some of the most common strategies include:

  • Allowing students to work at their own pace
  • Assigning lessons based on skill level
  • Following the four phases of learning

On top of these teaching strategies, digital curriculum provides lesson narration and transcripts to help English language learners and students with IEPs better learn material.

The only time you’ll find it difficult to differentiate instruction when using digital curriculum is when you’re teaching detailed hands-on skills.

Which One Provides Better Differentiation?

Both textbooks and digital curriculum provide ways for any teacher to differentiate.

However, depending on the needs of you and your students one may work better than the other.

Digital Curriculum vs. Textbooks - Which Is Better?


At the end of the day, deciding whether to use digital curriculum or textbooks depends on your goals.

If your biggest concerns are student engagement and up-to-date information, digital curriculum is a no-brainer.

If you want a straightforward resource and enjoy creating your own activities and worksheets, textbooks may be more up your alley.

Overall, many teachers stick with textbooks because it’s a comfortable option.

But more than 3,000 teachers have implemented digital curriculum in their classrooms with amazing success.

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