Brian Barrett:

FOR SEVERAL DECADES, textbook publishers followed the same basic model: Pitch a hefty tome of knowledge to faculty for inclusion in lesson plans; charge students an equally hefty sum; revise and update its content as needed every few years. Repeat. But the last several years have seen a shift at colleges and universities—one that has more recently turned tectonic.

In a way, the evolution of the textbook has mirrored that in every other industry. Ownership has given way to rentals, and analog to digital. Within the broad strokes of that transition, though, lie divergent ideas about not just what learning should look like in the 21st century but how affordable to make it.