Learning Resources

ELA Dominates in K–12 Digital Content Usage

The use of digital content is on the rise in American schools. Eight in 10 K-12 schools and districts are using some form of it, primarily as classroom curriculum but also to round out e-book collections in a library or media center.

The most desired content is English/language arts, requested by 74 percent of teachers. Science follows at 62 percent, math at 61 percent and social studies at 56 percent. Within the category of ELA, the primary preference for digital content is informational texts and literary non-fiction aligned to units of study, sought by 74 percent of teachers.

The content is being used primarily on laptops (75 percent), according to 2,033 school and district administrators who responded to a survey run by two education organizations. Tablets come in second with 62 percent, and PCs follow with 49 percent. Smartphones are used to consume digital content at 17 percent of respondent schools.

Top benefits of using digital content. Source:

Top benefits of using digital content. Source: "Digital Content Goes to School" from ASCD and OverDrive

The survey was conducted by ASCD, a 125,000-member non-profit education association, and OverDrive, which distributes digital content to schools and libraries, including e-books, audiobooks, streaming video and periodicals.

Issuing computing devices to every student isn't essential for success with digital content. Nearly three-quarters of schools (73 percent) and a third of districts (32 percent) are using digital materials without a 1-to-1 program in place.

However, the push for growth comes from the movement to 1-to-1 programs within schools, as well as more general technology mandates and programs, the use of online assessments and an overall sense that tech "is the future" for schools, as "Digital Content Goes to School" reported.

The obstacles to expansion for administrators at districts where the use of digital content isn't growing include budget limitations, lack of infrastructure, a lack of district urgency and a lack of staff training.

The three top benefits referenced by respondents were:

  • The ability to deliver personalized instruction;
  • The ability to enable students to work independently; and
  • The ability to engage students more fully.

The three primary hesitations about expanding use of digital content were:

  • Equity concerns about lack of Internet access at home;
  • Concerns about teachers being unprepared or unwilling to use digital learning; and
  • A lack of devices.
Top concerns in moving to digital content. Source:

Top concerns in moving to digital content. Source: "Digital Content Goes to School" from ASCD and OverDrive

Administrators reported that their teachers could use more professional development in the form of training that offered differentiated help with hands-on experience, preferably delivered by somebody who had already gone through the transition with a focus on how to integrate digital content into instruction and curriculum.

That digital content represents on average about a third of instructional material and about a third of the curriculum budgets. The median instructional budget reported was $50,000 for schools; at the district level the median budget was $227,000. Funding for purchasing digital content most often comes from the district, followed by grants.

The report's authors posed a series of questions that administrators can use as starting points for leading discussions related to the issues and pitfalls of making the digital transition:

  • How should the school or district find and purchase the best combination of digital content?
  • How can the school or district "make it easy" for participants — both teachers and students — to access all the digital content?
  • How can the "institution" ensure control over content year after year in order to maximize the return on the investment?
  • How can funds be budgeted now and in the future to take best advantage of the investment?
  • What content areas beyond traditional textbooks will supply "the most leverage" in the adoption of digital content?

The report is available for free registration on the ASCD Web site.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.