With continuing efforts to expand the scope of their education abilities, online learning startup Coursera recently announced a partnership with five publishers to offer free textbooks to students enrolled in Coursera’s classes. These publishers, Cengage Learning, Oxford University Press, Macmillan Higher Education, Wiley, and SAGE, will offer their textbooks through the online student hub Chegg. 

This content consists of eTextbooks that will be delivered for free via Chegg’s eReader and will only be available to the students for the duration of their course. Access to these textbooks gives professors far more options when assigning required reading. In the recent past, professors who have taught online courses have been reluctant to assign reading, preferring to “recommend” reading instead because of the added cost of these materials.

 While lack of access to reading materials clearly stands as a hindrance to higher education, what is not so clear is how this lack of materials negatively affects efforts to have online courses count for formal credit. All open online course providers—like Khan Academy and edX—strive to have their courses count for formal credit, and Coursera appears to be leading the charge. 

An obvious question is what do the publishers get from this arrangement? Free textbooks is something most of us thought we would never see—but there is value here. Like advertisers tailoring their content based on what they learn from social media, these textbook publishers gain valuable insights from the worldwide usage data returned from online courses. The publishers also have the opportunity to sell the full versions of these textbooks to students who might have otherwise had no interest. 

Coursera’s partnership with Chegg is clearly a step forward for open online educators. Keep up with the changes in the nonprofit education landscape at eSamaritan, or contact us for more information.