Moving from print coursebooks to ebooks: learnings from classroom research

Jess Hytner

ELT materials and practice are increasingly digitally-based. What opportunities and challenges do ebooks present for schools, teachers and learners? In our latest webinar, Senior ELT Research Manager Laura Patsko and Learning Technologies Specialist Rolf Tynan explored this idea, sharing insights and recommendations from a three-month practical classroom research study.

Even though digital is becoming prevalent in English language education, the impact of ebooks remains very under-researched. With this in mind, Cambridge University Press and Embassy English school in Cambridge conducted a study around the print and ebook components of face2face, to investigate whether ebooks made any real difference to the ELT classroom.

The main objectives for the research were:

  • Are there any differences between the print-based and tablet-based classroom content which appear to arise from the (type of) materials being used?
  • What appear to be the effects of these differences?

The research involved 4 teachers at Embassy English, 2 tech-savvy, and 2 less so, each with a wide-range of teaching experience. These were General English classes and involved using both students’ own devices as well as those owned by the school.  The key focus of the study was to not only to compare the print and ebook classroom context, but also to help teachers benefit developmentally in this area. The study was run over a course of 8 live classroom observations – 1 lesson per teacher using print coursebook, and 1 lesson per teacher using the ebook.

Some of the key findings from the observations were as follows:


  • Teachers showed evidence of good practice in all lessons
  • Planning for lessons was done via the print coursebook, even if they were teaching with the ebook
  • In the ebook context, teachers best practices were somewhat disrupted under the assumption that you could simply swap a print coursebook for an ebook and teach everything in the same way to get the same results – findings showed that time was needed to adapt this process.


  • Learners adapted very quickly to tech format and challenges – used the ebooks efficiently
  • There was a high degree of personal preference in the practice – some students appear simply to prefer paper
  • In both print-based and ebook classrooms the students were using multiple media
  • Some students who finished earlier went on exhibit ‘bad’ behaviours like checking their social media
  • Student-to-student interaction arose naturally when it was appropriate to do so.  

In the webinar, Laura and Rolf went on to explore further findings specifically related to teachers, learners and the institution, and their suggested framework for conducting such a research project. They also share their pedagogical and institutional recommendations to be considered when implementing ebooks in the classroom. Find out more by watching the full recording below:

If you’ve enjoyed hearing from Laura, read her top tips for teaching pronunciation!

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