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The Age of Reason: eTextbooks–Really?

I recently read this in Elliot Masie’s Learning Trends: “ iPhone and Textbooks: Just downloaded a new application to my iPhone called CourseSmart eTextbooks. This is one of several movements away from print based textbooks. In this application, a student would have access to all of the textbooks for their registered courses right on their mobile device. I’m starting with a Calculus Textbook to see how it goes.”

I cringed and immediately sent an email responding like this:

“I teach English in Utah. I just don’t like the idea of replacing textbooks with applications or etextbooks. I think it might work in some subjects, but rhetoric and writing isn’t really one of them. Maybe you won’t notice the difference in math, but when I ask you to critically read something—circle confusing words—draw out the main ideas in the article—or make notes in the margins—will you be able to do this on an iPhone? There is something tactile and reassuring in the pages, something that adds to the retention and learning in a student when they have other ways to absorb the material.

Maybe I am just old fashioned, or maybe I just can’t see the other side because my nose is in a book. I guess ultimately, I wonder this—with book costs going up and up—will this save them any money and is the money saved worth their education?”

Well, it got me thinking about training. Specifically, I thought about saving clients money by turning a lot of training into web-based training. Was I on the one hand–refusing to see how online textbooks might benefit both educators and colleges, and two, still thinking a lot of WBT is great for corporations?

Yes, I was. Here’s why:

Having an entire textbook online isn’t interactive in any way. Admittedly, you can print out the pages you need to read, write in the margins, or leave it online and open up a blank word document to take notes. Some applications even allow you to take notes directly in the ebook. Still, it is counterintuitive to place a book online. You have changed the medium for how students interact with the text without also changing how the text is presented to the student.

If they are really moving textbooks online, then some of the basic principles of online training should be followed. Namely, there should be links that take you deeper into sections, video case studies, knowledge checks along the way, and maybe a mentor for tips and tricks that help you get the most out of the class.

Then, when it is class time (whether online or on site) the teacher can help you obtain a deeper understanding or help you find clarity in areas of confusion.

That is why I prefer blended learning most, but still think WBT has merit. You work to engage your learners–not just take text based documents and turn them into PowerPoint pages a la copy and paste magic.

So, if textbooks can do what online training has done for self-study paper-based documents–I say great–it will save students money and make education once again affordable.

Just do it right the first time and make etextbooks engage the learner/student. Especially because we have so many tools at our fingertips to make it outstanding.

Find out more information on our blended learning and custom training solutions.