Inclusive access is the name for a cunning new idea of how to get money transferred from students’ pockets (or their parents, or their state grants) straight to textbook publishers. Just get the college to collect the money for you, upfront, as part of their fees for the course! As the site Inclusive Access.org tells us “Inclusive Access, also known as automatic textbook billing, is a sales model for college textbooks that adds the cost of digital course content into students’ tuition and fees.” “Digital content is delivered to students by the first day of their course, often through a learning management system.” When their course is over the students will in all probability lose access to their “books”. This is all part of our revised, more cost-efficient attitude to education, one where books are nothing more than tools enabling students to get a job. Once this is achieved the tools are clearly regarded as no longer of any use.

Naomi S. Baron, at her talk to The New York Book Forum (video link at my post Reading digitally) tells us that the push towards the increasing use of digital materials in education at all levels has originated with the publishers. Maybe; maybe not. I think it may really have been an idea grasped at in desperation by textbook publishers as a solution to a preexisting problem: that they were meeting sales resistance. State authorities could no longer afford to buy school textbooks, and college students were increasingly sharing, borrowing, renting textbooks or buying used copies. No doubt part of the push results from the assumption by all and sundry (except for those in the business) that digital books cost nothing, or at worst next-to-nothing to produce.

All of our pandemic-induced isolating seems to have accelerated the digitization of education. Universities look almost like they are determined to become job-training factories. Students are at risk of interacting with their computer keyboards more than they do with a real teacher or fellow students. Learning management systems, surprise, surprise, manage learning on your computer. They include the delivery, administration, automation, and analytics of the learning process. Just press the start button and keep going till you print out your degree! E-Student tells us that 99% of educational institutions are already using learning management systems to some extent. This may not be unconnected with the obvious current trend for textbook publishers to make investments in digital companies!

I wrote about Inclusive access a bit more pessimistically few years ago.