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What is an Online Textbook?

B. Miller
B. Miller

An online textbook is a textbook that has been scanned into e-book format and may be viewed online, rather than needing to purchase the physical textbook. This type of digital textbook is becoming more and more common, and is often found in PDF format so it can be viewed most like an actual textbook on a computer or a number of different e-reading devices. Though an online textbook may be available for free, or at a reduced price, sometimes they cost just as much as a printed textbook, so one should consider whether it is the most effective solution when purchasing textbooks for a class.

Though many textbooks are available in an online textbook format, there are many that still must be purchased in printed format. These can often be purchased used for a reduced price, and then resold after the class is over. Another alternative to purchasing actual textbooks is to rent textbooks. For a small fee, a student may select the textbooks that he or she needs for a certain period of time, then simply return them or purchase them outright when the time is up. If an online textbook is not available and buying new or used textbooks is too expensive, rentals can be a great alternative.

Woman doing a handstand with a computer
Woman doing a handstand with a computer

Typically, an online textbook will appear in one of two ways. The first and most common method is for an actual textbook to be scanned, page by page, into the computer. Each page then appears as a single image, most often in PDF format. Though this method is simple, it can be more challenging to read if the text is small, or if it was not scanned well. In addition, it is not possible to highlight items in this type of textbook, or to copy and paste, unless one is reading it on an e-reader that offers these features. There is generally a fee charged for accessing these textbooks.

A second option for an online textbook is one that has actually been typed into the computer, and may be viewed in web site format. These types of textbooks are often free for web users to view. Simply searching online for information in the subject desired can make it possible to find these types of online textbooks, though they are typically not used for classroom learning. These can make good resources when doing research to find additional information on a certain subject, however.

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      Woman doing a handstand with a computer