Focus Group | Learning Resources 2018

To gain more insight into the learning resources students actually use throughout their studies and the influences behind their decisions, we conducted a focus group with 10 participants. In line with last year’s focus group we broke the focus group into four sections; text buying, learning features, additional resources, and communications.

All of the participants are studying social science degrees varying from marketing and management to international development.


Text Buying

We found that the majority of lecturers with the exception of international relations, recommend a core textbook for their modules. Only a few students actually bought the textbook, none of which were bought new. The rest of the participants would find a free copy of the book online, usually in PDF format.

Participants expressed their frustrations when the core text listed is written by the lecturer themselves. This discouraged them from purchasing the book even more as they felt that the lecturer only used this book because they wrote it, with many of the participants expressing that “there is probably a better textbook written by someone else”.

When asked what the benefits of buying and using a textbook all of the participants agreed that its main benefit is guaranteed access. This is due to the core texts often being in high demand in the library too. Another main benefit students found is that they are a lot easier to use than online e-textbooks. Students commented on how they like to write in the margins and highlight text; continuing to say that you can’t write in margins in e-books and the highlighting feature isn’t the same.

Do you prefer E-Books or Textbooks?

An occurring issue for students is the price of textbooks, with all participants agreeing that the current prices for textbooks are too high and do not accommodate students’ budget. In an ideal world, students would like the price of textbook to be free and preferably incorporated into their course fees. However, they know this is not feasible and suggested various price points ranging from £10-20. They did comment that they would not necessarily buy the textbook as they are often only used for one module per semester, with one student stating, “you can get a 1st without reading a single textbook”. When asked if they would prefer their own copy of a textbook, or more books available to students in the library, they said an extreme student discount or more available in the library. Another student remarked “either way students will always find it for free anyway”.

All students agreed they would not purchase a new edition of a textbook. This is due to the view that they are “a waste of money” as they don’t see the changes that are made to the book. Lecturers will often recommend previous editions of the textbook that are most relevant as they are also aware that students will most likely not buy the newest edition.

All participants expect for one prefer physical books, mainly due to the functionality of a textbook. As mentioned earlier, they want to be able to highlight and write notes in the book. Everyone agreed that the only reason they would choose an e-book over a textbook is due to the cost of a textbook. Many expressed issues they have had with e-books such as, they take too long to load, it is harder to read on screen and it is frustrating to use as they often do not display in the right format on their devices making it extremely difficult to use. This resulted in a comment, “technology for e-books has a long way to go”.

Pedagogical Features

The main three features used are case studies, key terms and glossary. The case studies are only used to help with essay writing; there as the key terms and glossary and used throughout the entirety of the course as and when students need them. They all agreed that the practice questions in a book are not needed as they are too simplistic and often don’t cover what the module would ask in an essay or exam.

All participants agreed that they would only buy a textbook if they had the intentions of getting a specific book, such as the core texts. They went on to express that they would not browse, and purchase based on anything other than a recommendation by the lecturer. One student expressed that they would be put off by “stupid reviews” and that they just want to know what the book is about and what topics it covers, “not what other people think of it”. Bad layouts, with lots of text, no colour and no/small diagrams were other characteristics that would put students off buying a textbook. The majority agreed that colour is an important part to a textbook with definitions and key terms needing to be in bold colours to draw the reader to the “important parts”.  Illustrations and diagrams are sought after features when explaining concepts.

When asked if they would use the pedagogical features in an e-book, they all said they would less likely use any of them. Their reasoning being that they were already on a computer or electronic device and so they would Google things instead; this is due to the difficulty in navigating e-books. They would however potentially click on links embedded in the text if they thought they were relevant.

Additional Resources

Students use a variety of different online additional resources such as, library search, YouTube, Google Scholar and Google Books.

Students explained that library search was the first place they would look for textbooks/e-books, but Google Scholar has the most up to date academic articles and journals. YouTube was used predominantly for learning about software or to understand a concept further; e.g. how to use IBM SPSS.

When asked if their books offer online material in addition to the textbook, all participants were not aware that this was a feature. Despite no one using this feature they said they would be more likely to use it in an e-book, but they have not seen it advertised in neither textbooks or e-books. They recommended the advert wold need to be bold and a constant reminder throughout the book.

The majority of students use videos in their studies, with all business/economics students stating they often use videos. They will always find the videos on YouTube, unless there is a specific video they have to watch posted on study direct by the lecturer. Students will just search and watch rather than subscribing to channels; even if they are using the same channel for videos. The videos are often use for explaining software and statistics with students using videos during assignments, to understand concepts, and to gain a new perspective on a topic. They suggested that videos on YouTube should be created to go alongside a textbook.


Students often use group chats on WhatsApp and Facebook to work on group projects together.

They would also use social media to spread their dissertation questionnaire to get more responses often using; Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit.

When asked if any publishers had come to speak to them about books and their features or any communication in general from publishers, all students said they have had no communication. They agreed that university email would be the best way to hear about relevant books, as they would view it as spam on their personal email.

Majority of students said they would not really follow an academic social media page but if they did they would want to see; light-hearted relief from study that’s in the general area of the relevant discipline and links to learning areas such as articles and videos.

When asked what type of competition they would most likely to enter via social media all students said that they don’t have the time or energy to do anything creative. They would rather sign up to competitions where they would “tag a friend” on a Facebook post, give an email address or fill in a short tick box survey for a chance to win something.

Thank you once again, to all of the students who agreed to participate in the focus group!

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