Is the Future of Education Digital? Evidence from the Impact of Online Learning on Digital and Non-Digital Supplemental Learning Products

Publication Date



The rapid growth of online learning and the adoption of digital learning products to supplement regular school curricula have popularized online learning among K-12 students. However, the impact of this rise in online learning on the use of digital and non-digital Supplemental Learning Products (SLPs) is an open empirical question. SLPs represent a significant and growing market, with students increasingly utilizing these products to augment their public education. In this paper, we partner with a large U.S. educational platform to analyze demand for their digital and non-digital products from 2019 through 2020. Using exogenous shocks to online learning induced by state-level mandates during COVID-19, we find that as online learning increases in public schools, demand for non-digital SLPs increases while demand for digital SLPs remains flat. Supporting analyses suggest that increases in demand for non-digital SLPs did not negatively impact educational outcomes. The results indicate that non-digital SLPs allow students to cope with the adverse effects of screen time associated with increased use of digital products. We find that these effects are moderated by demographic variables and provide preliminary insights related to educational equity. Our findings offer substantive implications for both firms in the educational space and policymakers: as public schools increasingly move lessons online, there will likely be an increased demand for non-digital SLPs (books) that can be consumed offline.

Document Type



economics of digitization, online learning, EdTech, difference-in-differences, school closures, learning loss, COVID-19


Business Administration, Management, and Operations




SMU Cox: IT & Operations Management (Topic)