Flat World Knowledge For Affordable Custom Textbooks

by Millie Kay G. on 2011-05-135

You may not have heard of Flat World Knowledge before, but I was recently invited to give it a once over.  It actually has an interesting premise: they’re in the business of providing textbook customization and personalized textbooks for students.  While the service references all kinds of textbooks, I thought I’d discuss Flat World Knowledge via the business school angle, just because that’s where my general focus would be (especially if I decided to go back to school).

As an alternative to the expensive textbooks offered by the typical universities, today’s scholars can take advantage of Flat World Knowledge.  So what is it exactly? It’s a different kind of textbook provider that emphasizes the value of open source material and publishing choices for readers.

Whether you’re currently in business school or you’d simply like to learn more about topics such as business and economics or even humanities and science, you have a lot of material to process — but you don’t have to pay top dollar for it. More than 900 colleges have already selected Flat World Knowledge’s open source method of providing textbooks. In fact, major publisher Random House is a top investor of the company.

What’s So Great About Open Source?

You may already be familiar with open source products such as the Firefox web browser, Wikipedia, or the Linux operating system. When something is open source, users are welcome to modify and share the basic product, which is often presented free of charge. The educators who use the Flat World Knowledge textbooks for their classes are free to arrange the chapters and sections as they like, using Flat World’s “Make It Your Own” platform (with drag and drop text capability). They can add or delete material for a custom version that is tailored to their classes.  This is made possible since the textbooks are published under a Creative Commons open license, which allows the reuse, remixing and redistribution of the educational material.

You can read a Flat World Knowledge textbook online, for free. This is a terrific option especially if you’re a budget-conscious student or if  you’d like to brush up on topics you’ve studied previously. The free text can let you sample a topic before beginning in-depth study, too.

For example, the Business & Economics section covers key concepts like accounting and tax, business law, and finance. You’ll be able to study economics, management, and marketing as well.

Pick the Format You Like Best

Reading online isn’t your only option. Flat World Knowledge’s textbooks come in different formats at varying price points. If you prefer a printed copy of your textbook, you can select between black and white starting at $34.95 or color starting at $69.90. Another choice is to print the textbook yourself, with a PDF starting at $24.95.

More and more of us are relying on ebook readers, and you’ll find that the material from Flat World is pretty accessible. You can get your textbook as ebooks for the iPad, the Kindle, the nook, and the Sony Reader for $24.95. One more option is to purchase the mp3 version of your textbook. That way, you’re free to play the audiobook on your iPod, laptop, or another device wherever you go.

Getting your textbooks can be a lot less hassle than trudging to the university bookstore. If you’re a college student, you can start by searching for your professor’s class. Once you buy the textbook format of your choice, you’re given access to any digital version you’ve purchased right away. Study guides are available as well.

Emphasis on Social Learning

As an undergraduate, I had plenty of questions about the material I was studying. If I needed answers before my classes were held, that meant tracking down someone in the dorms in the afternoons or dashing across campus to find a teaching assistant or professor during the day. These days, times have changed: if Google or social connections don’t bring you the answer, you may find yourself stumped.

However, Flat World Knowledge provides a social learning aspect. That’s because you can head to your textbook’s Q&A page to ask a question. Someone else who shares the textbook just may provide the guidance you need. That means you don’t have to rely on catching someone on campus. Someone across the state or country can help you out.  If you’ve got some insights to share, you may also be able to help out if you so desire.

You can go through posted questions, chat live with other students, or make your own study group. Plus, you’ll find Flat World Knowledge on Facebook and Twitter.

For decades, studying topics at the college-level has meant purchasing high-priced textbooks that were printed in only hardcover or paperback. The advent of Flat World Knowledge’s services means that you can select among a variety of formats with differing price points — which provides more affordable ways for you to study. If you’re a college student or you’d simply like to expand your knowledge of a variety of subjects ranging from business to mathematics, then you may want to take a look at Flat World Knowledge’s catalog and partake of their innovative ways of helping us learn.

Note: Flat World Knowledge has received $27 million in venture capital funding over the last few years.  Bessemer and BDMI are among their leading investors. Here’s more information about them.

Copyright © 2011 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Francesca J. May 14, 2011 at 10:27 am

I’m a student and this seems like an outstanding idea! But I have one criticism. Sometimes I find that having too many choices can get confusing so having too many things you can do with a book can just be overkill. You know what I mean? Every heard of K.I.S.S.? Don’t get me wrong. I thought maybe this would be more of a time killer.

Funny about Money May 15, 2011 at 8:22 am

It would be good if academic departments would use a service like this to put together “textbooks” that meet their institution’s and their faculty’s requirements for the big gen-ed courses. If these could be made available to students, instead of our having to require textbooks from publishers that charge $120 for a $30 paperback, it would make our students’ lives a great deal better.

It would give us the flexibility to change content easily, too, as concepts and research change.

Silicon Valley Blogger May 16, 2011 at 8:30 am

You make great points, although I think if you’ve got a professor or teacher whose job is to create their curriculum and sift through the material, then I think it shouldn’t be too much work for them to come up with assembling the best materials for their class. I would say, leave it up to your teachers to assign you with the books they put together. If I were a teacher, I would find this to be a great resource.

I like the flexibility of this kind of approach to building textbooks. And the price tag is also an attraction here, as you’ve mentioned. I believe this can pave the way for developing educational courses of the future and addresses those twin goals: affordability and flexibility.

Tihomir Petrov October 17, 2011 at 10:15 am

This is a very interesting open source app which could be used by students. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it is a little time consuming. But if you learn how to use it and make it work for you, then great.

Silicon Valley Blogger January 13, 2012 at 11:05 am

Here are a few interesting facts about the textbook industry:

  • After winter, college kids spend upwards of $3 billion over the next few weeks on textbooks. That’s a lot of paper!
  • On average, a student will shell out $700 on textbooks per semester. To cut down on costs, it may be a good idea to use a textbook rental service.
  • Today, only 34% of all textbook sales are for new books. This is down from 70%, just a few short years ago. By contrast, textbook rentals comprise 40% of total sales. The textbook rental industry appears to be growing!

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