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Flat World Knowledge Review – Open Source College Textbooks Online

By David Bakke

This post brought to you by Flat World Knowledge. All opinions are 100% mine.

flat world knowledge logoIt wasn’t too long ago that I was purchasing textbooks for my wife to complete her college education. The prices of those textbooks were appalling, to say the least. I remembered them being expensive back when I attended school, but the prices for college textbooks have recently gone completely through the roof!

Thankfully, I recently discovered a new cutting-edge website called Flat World Knowledge that may change all of this. They offer a ton of college textbooks in an online format that is completely free. And if you don’t like reading online on a computer screen, they also offer a great deal of affordable options for receiving your textbooks in a variety of different formats (e.g. audio books, eBooks, printable books). If you are a student or an educator, read on.

How It Works

Educators first search the Flat Word Knowledge database for textbooks that suit their needs, and then request print copies or review the books online. If they’re satisfied with a certain publication, they sign up, and then provide their students with a URL so they can access the book as well. If the teachers want to tweak the book or make any changes, they have full ability to customize and can edit and alter as they see fit. The books offered at Flat World Knowledge are truly “open source” textbooks (i.e. published under a Creative Commons open license).

flat world knowledge personal finance book

From there, students have a variety of options as to how to access their textbook. The most popular option I would imagine is to read the book online. I say this because this option is completely free! Additionally, students can access the book in a variety of different formats including print, audio, and self-print PDF options. These options do come at a price, but it is far less than what you’d pay at your local bookstore. You could order a black and white soft cover version of a book for $29 or a color edition for $59. You can even order audio books, or self-print chapters of a textbook if you only need certain parts.

flatworld knowledge book options

Furthermore, the textbooks featured on Flat World Knowledge come with social learning tools. There is a Q&A section on the site if you have any questions about something you’re reading. If your question hasn’t already been answered, you can post it up and look for a reply from someone shortly.  You can also chat live with other readers, take and share digital notes, and even find partners for projects.

Advantages

Flat World Knowledge has some unique features and solutions that alleviate some of the current weaknesses in the $8.5 billion college textbook market.

  • Low Price Point. How would you like to go from paying over $100 for a textbook to paying nothing at all? Or you can download a textbook in your preferred format for a small fee.
  • Social Learning. You’re able to easily communicate with other students across the country reading and studying the same textbook and taking the same course. As a result, you have a larger pool of people to communicate and collaborate with to answer questions and better understand the material
  • Textbook Customization. For instructors, the best part is that you can take a book from Flat World and customize it to your own needs and curriculum. Using Flat World’s “Make It Your Own” platform for textbook customization, you can add, edit, and delete text, reorder chapters using a drag-and-drop interface, and insert new content like audio and video from sources like YouTube.

Disadvantages

  • Adoption by Educators. Flat World Knowledge sounds like a good idea, but unless teachers buy into it and decide to use it, the benefits of the site to students are irrelevant. As of August 2010, 800 colleges and universities were using Flat World open textbooks and 150,000 students were using 24 different published titles. That’s definitely a great start, but they’ll need increased adoption by educators to see mainstream success.
  • Limited Textbook Selections. There are numerous expert authored publications available for a wide variety of subject matters (with fifty additional titles on the way), but there’s usually only one for a specific subject. Although teachers can edit the textbooks, they may still have a preference for a certain author or type of textbook that Flat World does not carry.

The Future of Online Education

Online education is here to stay, mainly because the convenience it offers is simply too great to overlook. The current mindset of purchasing an actual textbook, reading through it as needed, and highlighting important material, is simply outdated. Times are changing and it appears that Flat World Knowledge is on the forefront of this transformation. Over the past two years, they’ve raised over $27 million in venture capital from investors, so there’s definitely a lot of potential.

Both educators and students alike should give the site a good hard look and determine if it’s a good fit for their needs. You can’t argue with the savings and the added convenience it brings to the table.

Final Word

Flat World Knowledge is a fantastic way for students to save money on college textbooks. It also offers the flexibility for instructors to customize a book geared towards their own curriculum and teaching style. Whether you’re an educator or a student, it’s worth taking a look at Flat World Knowledge. This model could be the future of how textbooks are distributed and read on college campuses across the country.

Have you had any direct experiences with Flat World Knowledge? What do you think about their textbooks and the benefits they offer? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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David Bakke
David started his own personal finance blog, YourFinances101, in June of 2009 and published his first book on ways to save more and spend less called "Don't Be A Mule..." Since then he has been a regular contributor for Money Crashers. He lives just outside Atlanta, GA and most all of his free time is taken up by his amazing three year old son, Nicholas.

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  • Nathan

    Given my experience as an instructor, I will never use Flatworld again! After inheriting a wonderful course at a State University, I liked the idea of the many options and ease offered by the company. Unfortunately, they seem to strive to provide poor customer service to instructors, and more importantly, students. I cannot believe how condescending their representatives are! I will be changing the textbook for this course and will never work with this company again! I suggest looking for an alternative…any alternative to this company!

    • Davidbakke

      Nathan

      I’m sorry to hear about your experience, but I appreciate you sharing it. Our readers will appreciate the feedback!

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