Weighing the Pros & Cons of Inclusive Access

In January of 2020, shortly after I joined DigiTex and right before the COVID pandemic began, I registered to take a Continuing Education course in basic Accounting and Bookkeeping. The course was meant to help me dust off the accounting skills that I had learned many years ago in my high school bookkeeping course so that I could better perform some of the basic functions of my job. However, it also provided me with my first up-close look at Inclusive Access. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, as I was not when I took my Accounting class, Inclusive Access is a relatively new model of providing textbooks to college students which offers access to a reduced-cost electronic copy of a commercial textbook, usually facilitated through a Learning Management System (LMS) such as Blackboard, Canvas, or Moodle. The fee for this text is then rolled into the cost of tuition for the course, so that the student receives one comprehensive bill for both the course and textbook. Though the intent of Inclusive Access is to reduce the burden of textbook costs for students, the reality is often much more complicated, as I found out when I took my course.

When I began my Accounting course, I had only recently heard about Inclusive Access and had little idea what it meant. So when I learned that I would receive access to my textbook as a part of the course tuition, without having to spend additional money, I was initially excited. WOW, I thought, my textbook is included in the cost of the course! I’m getting more value for my money… 


Those of you who know all about Inclusive Access are probably having a good chuckle right now because, of course, Inclusive Access means no such thing! Rather than giving the student more value for the money, this model of textbook access simply adds the fee for the textbook onto the cost of the course, albeit at a somewhat reduced rate. That single bill that the student sees is simply the cost of tuition plus the cost of the text. 

But back to the story. Aside from the convenience of paying for both the course and textbook in one bill instead of two, there were some other notable advantages. As a part of my Inclusive Access, I had day 1 access to the textbook through the course LMS. Whereas many students struggle during the first 1-3 weeks of class to find and purchase an affordable textbook, I was able to hit the ground running. This prevented me from falling behind in readings and exercises, which helped to ensure that my progress in the course was consistent from start to finish. Additionally, I found the electronic textbook to be more convenient. Not only was it accessible from anywhere with an internet connection, but it was also impossible to lose. And no worries about accidentally leaving it at home on class nights!  

Thumbs up!

Though Inclusive Access initially looked like a great deal to me, the challenges presented by this arrangement quickly became apparent. Learners above a certain age, like myself, may be able to relate when I say that reading an electronic textbook is a different experience from that of reading a hard copy of the same material. Though there is some debate over this theory, some studies have suggested that the human brain does, in fact, process information differently when it is consumed through a hard copy versus an electronic copy. For me, this is certainly the case. I find that there’s just something about reading a sentence in a book that helps to cement the material in my mind more effectively. I also like to have the option of underlining and highlighting important bits of text and taking notes in the margins of the book. Although today’s electronic textbooks often include highlighting, underlining, and note-taking capabilities, for me the effect is different from engaging in those same activities using a hard copy textbook. Of course Inclusive Access often includes the option to purchase a paper copy of  the textbook, but this option is usually an extra cost to the student. In other words, the student has already paid a fee for an electronic copy of the textbook, and then is expected to pay an additional fee for the privilege of owning a hard copy! For those students who choose this option, it’s questionable whether they are saving any money at all.

What?!? I’m shocked!

An even bigger drawback to Inclusive Access, in my experience, was the fact that I lost access to the textbook when the course ended. Whenever I’m trying to learn new material, I never feel like I’ve mastered it until I’ve had a chance to review it multiple times. For me, this kind of learning often happens after a course has concluded, during the period in which I’m putting what I learned to practical use. Questions come up, and it’s helpful to have a textbook to look back at for answers. Of course, it’s hard to pull out a textbook for later reference if you have to return it at the end of the course! One could argue that this is not much different from having to return a textbook rental at the end of a semester, and I would tend to agree, but with an important caveat: textbook rentals can often be cheaper than Inclusive Access. 

Had I known then what I know now about Open Educational Resources (OER), I would likely have had a different first impression of my textbook. Although Inclusive Access texts often do provide students with some cost savings, so do OER, and the savings are often much greater with OER, which is free. Although the digital texts provided through Inclusive Access are very convenient, so are OER, which are also very often digital. Aside from these benefits, OER are often available to students in perpetuity, allowing them to access these resources as often as needed after a course has ended. In a side by side comparison, high quality OER often win, hands down! 

If you’re like I was in early 2020 and are just now hearing about Inclusive Access, you may enjoy learning more about this textbook model by visiting InclusiveAccess.org. Though it does have some advantages for the students, there are often more drawbacks to the model, especially in comparison to Open Educational Resources. Isn’t that the way many things work out in life?

*All images are courtesy of Pixabay.