The End of Textbooks

The End of Textbooks

The world is changing every day. The challenge is how to teach students to win the 4th industrial revolution. 

Unfortunately, using textbooks and teaching to standardized tests are the wrong weapons. It's time to stop using textbooks in the classroom.

Coping with the wave of change will take a new approach to teaching and learning to instill an entrepreneurial mindset in students by creating entrepreneurial schools:

  1. Satisfaction will come from learning something new every day. This goes hand-in-hand with every entrepreneur’s desire to do things better, and make a real impact on the world. This is a key part of enjoying the journey, as well as the destination. It doesn’t imply any sense of superiority or weakness, but often provides motivation beyond money.

  2. Success requires challenging assumptions and status quo. With this principle, real entrepreneurs start with a conviction that new learning will reveal flaws in existing models, leading to new opportunities. The Internet is the source of data for alternative views, and social media allows direct customer interactions to test these views.

  3. Learning means understanding, far beyond memorization. Great entrepreneurs strive to understand the depth of a customer need, rather than just the ability to recite a longer list of features. Technologies are not solutions, but understanding a technology, in the context of a customer need, will result in more competitive and long-lasting solutions.

  4. The act of communicating and writing enhances learning. The process of documenting what you think you know in a business plan, for the team and for investors, solidifies your own understanding of your new business. With that learning, you are able to more effectively share and market your solution to customers and business partners.

  5. Building a new business is not rocket science. Growing a business is understanding the needs and thoughts of regular people and simple financial transactions, not some complex technology that you might assume you can never learn. With the Internet, you can see all you need explained in a dozen ways in text, videos, pictures, and podcasts.

  6. Learning is nothing more than looking outside the box. Extending your knowledge is like dealing with competitors – if you aren’t extending your comfort zone, you are losing ground. With the Internet, you can quickly test your new business concepts, with crowd funding and social media, and get quick feedback from around the world at low cost.

  7. Relationships are a test of your learning readiness. Building a new business today is all about building relationships with your customers and your team. As an entrepreneur with a new startup, you are the brand, and customers today expect a relationship. In addition, you always need relationships with advisors, investors, influencers, and peers.

  8. Proactively ask for help and anticipate the need to pivot. With the Internet, you can ask for help from normally inaccessible experts, with minimum personal exposure and cost. It’s easy to see how often others have made changes, so your own learning and associated pivots should never be an embarrassment. Avoid the arrogance trap.

Here is the case to get rid of textbooks:

  1. They are expensive
  2. They are inaccessible for many schools and students
  3. The textbook industry is highly politicized
  4. By the time a book is published it is often out of date
  5. The amount of information is expanding exponentially every day and cannot conceivable be captured in one book
  6. Students should be taught to ask courageous questions and find courageous answers, not memorize someone else's
  7. Classroom time should be for exploration and the application of knowledge derived from sources outside of the classroom
  8. The digital divide should be bridged with universal broadband and students given mobile devices instead of textbooks. Educational technology entrepreneurs all already filling that gap teaching by text
  9. "We should eliminate the term "soft skills", since they are the new currency of success and cannot be taught using textbooks. They require experience.
  10. We need to retrain teachers. In many instances we are asking the blind to lead the blind.
  11. Textbooks ignore the wisdom of the crowd
  12. Textbooks create knowledge technicians

Winning the 4th industrial revolution will mean discarding an educational system that was designed over 100 years ago for another time and another economy. We certainly shouldn't burn the textbooks, but rather replace how, when and where we expect students to use them, if at all. Like going Powerpointless, it time to put them on the shelf and stop letting them get in the way of learning.

Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is the President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs

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  • Mel Delaney

    I will miss my old textbooks.....

  • Anthony Wilkinson

    So what's the alternative ??

  • Mehdi Haider

    Neat article, Thank you!

  • Anonymous

    A distinction should be made between "removing textbooks" and "learning in other ways besides using textbooks." Learning without textbooks implies more active pedagogies, which are definitely better for engaging and motivation students. However, books are valuable for maintaining records of important information, compared to the Internet. If something isn't intentionally recorded for future generations of students, it will be lost and forgotten. Online open resources are changing all the time, and content is not always dependably accessible. Many of the websites marketing themselves as educational resources have not been aligned with any content standards or evaluated on whether they actually help students learn.

    The Internet provides no reputability, validation, proofreading, or verification of any kind when it comes to facts. Anyone can write their opinion online and share it as fact. It then becomes the teacher's responsibility to sift through these resources and try to figure out what suits their classroom's learning. On the other hand, books and publishers have peer review and panels of experts to ensure that subjects are accurately representing the body of knowledge to learn. Admittedly, sometimes publishers can be biased in what they choose to accept as fact. But students already learn to read books critically, thinking about why the author wrote them, and considering what was purposely included or left out. Why should textbooks be any different?

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Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA

Former Contributor

Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is a professor emeritus of otolaryngology, dentistry, and engineering at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the Colorado School of Public Health and President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs at He has created several medical device and digital health companies. His primary research centers around biomedical and health innovation and entrepreneurship and life science technology commercialization. He consults for and speaks to companies, governments, colleges and universities around the world who need his expertise and contacts in the areas of bio entrepreneurship, bioscience, healthcare, healthcare IT, medical tourism -- nationally and internationally, new product development, product design, and financing new ventures. He is a former Harvard-Macy fellow and In 2010, he completed a Fulbright at Kings Business, the commercialization office of technology transfer at Kings College in London. He recently published "Building the Case for Biotechnology." "Optical Detection of Cancer", and " The Life Science Innovation Roadmap". He is also an associate editor of the Journal of Commercial Biotechnology and Technology Transfer and Entrepreneurship and Editor-in-Chief of Medscape. In addition, He is a faculty member at the University of Colorado Denver Graduate School where he teaches Biomedical Entrepreneurship and is an iCorps participant, trainer and industry mentor. He is the Chief Medical Officer at and and Chairman of the Board at GlobalMindED at, a non-profit at risk student success network. He is honored to be named by Modern Healthcare as one of the 50 Most Influential Physician Executives of 2011 and nominated in 2012 and Best Doctors 2013.

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