My evolving relationship with coursebooks


Everyone seems to be debating coursebooks again or perhaps it’s an issue that never in fact left the spotlight. There seems to be somewhat of a consensus among bloggers that course books are evil and ought to be eschewed. If that’s the case, I’ve succumbed to the dark side.

I left a full time job in early 2014 and started working independently in July 2014 when I’d completed the DELTA. Since 2014, I have been required to use course books mandatorily twice; during the DELTA with New Headway and last year when I taught a semester at a university with New English File. Except for these two occasions, I’ve had autonomy in making decisions about which materials to use on my courses. Have a look at the number of course books I’ve used between 2014 and 2016. Do you see a pattern?


There is no doubt that bespoke materials drawn from the learner’s context are more effective. This holds good in general contexts and is particularly true of business contexts. So why am I increasingly relying on coursebooks? Unfortunately, most of my clients refuse to pay for the time spent on designing customised materials. They tell me to use what I already have. In the early days, I accommodated this objection and invested unpaid time and effort in producing bespoke materials, naively telling myself that enhanced learner experiences and outcomes justified this small sacrifice I had to make. Small, however, was an understatement. To design a two day workshop, I’d have to spend approximately five days developing the materials. This is actually well below learning & development industry averages which estimate four to six hours of development for each hour of instructor led training (I’m not sure what the parallel ELT figures are).  So, I’d end up spending seven days on this project (which probably doesn’t even take into account the time spent on need analysis and client meetings) but only get paid for two.

I refuse to be enslaved by a cycle of unpaid drudgery. Therefore, until I find a better solution … long live the course book.

Post-script: Funnily enough, what’s stopped me from embracing coursebooks with more fervor is their lack of availability. Adult ELT coursebooks are rarely used in India. The big publishers mostly cater to the K12 segment and I frequently run into situations where the distributor doesn’t have enough copies or has had to sift through warehouses across the country to put an order together.

Image attribution: I think I do by eltpics | Flickr | CC BY-NC 2.0


6 thoughts on “My evolving relationship with coursebooks

  1. Hi Adi,

    Interesting, even if I don’t agree. I totally understand the need to be paid for work done. Preparation and materials development need to be paid-for commodities.

    I wonder if anybody has written a modular system where you can pick and choose the things you need with the ability to edit according to teaching and learning needs and pay only for what you download/use/need. This can provide more teacher agency and avoid the waste of money that learners see when they pay for books where there are about 3 irrelevant units.

    Food for thought, definitely. Cheers.

    Liked by 2 people

    • In principle, it’s a great idea especially if the system was not only modular but also granular. So, I could choose combinations of lexical items, functions, grammatical structures, business topics, and skills focus to create a mix that approximated the needs of the learners. I have seen something similar but as online modules on a couple of digital language platforms offered by the big ELT publishers. On one platform, no matter what the learner chose, they’d get the same learning path with some cosmetic changes. On another, individual pick and mix modules were so generic that they were of little use to the learner like a single basic module on emails (focus on basic structure and some formulaic language) in the entire course. Regardless of what learners chose as other components (including advanced topics like dealing with challenging situations or hedging) they’d get the same mindless module on emails.

      In practice, offering a meaningful modular system seems challenging. Because I’m also an instructional designer, I’ve considered making modules as Reusable Learning Objects (RLOs). To give you a recent example, in a course for an IT team that blended intercultural skills with email writing – I created an RLO which I could theoretically reuse for a similar need in the future. I current have a similar requirement from the same organization but for their finance and procurement team. But, based on my needs analysis, the RLO in its current form would make no sense to the procurement team because it’s full of awareness raising exercises that are very IT specific. To make the RLO work, I need to change all the emails but it’s not a simple copy paste job because it has a cascading effect on the target language and learning outcomes I’m trying to draw out. So I may end up changing the exercises which defeats the purpose of the RLO.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Adi, great read. I’ve always seen course books as a jumping off point; you can find some excellent ideas in there amongst the bloat, but I don’t think any teacher or learner would expect to use just one source of material for all their teaching and learning.

    Regarding context, I think most learners are happy with something that they can engage with, and personalisation can happen from there onwards. Yeah bespoke lessons are the ideal, but you can create the same leaner experience with less.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is interesting. I’ve actually never taken into consideration the amount of extra work you have when you don’t use a coursebook. Of course, I wouldn’t be paid for it either. Luckily, a wide range of coursebooks is available here in the Czech Republic so at least I can choose what best suits my students’ needs. On the other hand, I’m a strong advocate of tailor-made materials, but they never constitute the whole course.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Adi,
    Marc’s is an interesting question – would an example be any existing coursebook that you could pick and choose units from and then download? This _does_ sound more effective, and I agree that especially in BE coursebooks I’ve always had chapters that were irrelevant for a particular group; for instance, none of them were in marketing, or they never did presentations and were never going to, etc. I guess in some settings where learners don’t have access to their own computers/devices in class this would mean a lot of photocopying.
    I see that Andrew’s up there among the books you’ve used. 🙂 If you remember me asking about Successful Presentations on Twitter, the whole class now – about a month later – talks about Andrew almost as if he were ‘real’. I was a bit worried at the start that the content would be too abstract for graduate students whose presenting experience is mostly limited to an educational setting, but they seem to be getting on with Andrew’s advice pretty well and have plenty to say about it. Just thought I’d let you know. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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