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Has the digital textbook finally come of age?

For many years now the promise of digital textbooks surpassing hardcopy texts has been a desired, if not expected, outcome of the ‘digital age’.  The suggested gains have been around ease of access, use anywhere anytime, affordability and potential for interactivity. Unfortunately, the results up to now have seen proprietary software limiting both development and access, expensive subscription services and a lack of useful features in the delivered product.

There have been some success stories, where a low-tech approach has been taken, such as using the ePub format and keeping to a limited functionality for the final production (see eBooks for education). However, a strategic brief from the NMC Horizon Project suggests the aligning of the stars for digital textbooks is close and that new ways of interactive learning are ripe for innovation.

Reimagining the textbook

The convergence of the four trends: digitisation, mobile app development, interface design and analytics is creating new energy around the possibilities of digital textbooks. The NMC argue that digital textbooks, as they are currently designed, are simply not compelling.  They believe there is a tremendous latent demand for well-designed digital textbooks that incorporate video and other rich media, interactive features such as responsive charts that can be used to examine the impact of key variables, frequent knowledge checks, rich discussion and feedback tools, and integrated analytics.  Not to mention ease of development and user accessibility.

Few teaching staff have the levels of training needed to adequately incorporate web and learning analytics into digital teaching resources, nor do they generally have a design background. There is a need for user-friendly tools that empower faculty to design the kinds of compelling digital resources with built-in analytics that can identify how well students are performing and pinpoint where they are struggling.

Inexpensive smartphones are enabling a mobile-centric approach to delivering media and services and mobile apps have redefined what we mean by Internet access, and what we use it for. Attention has drifted away from the web, with 86% of users’ time being spent in apps. Apps work in fundamentally different ways to websites, and their compelling uses, particularly in education, continue to expand.

There have been several shifts in the evolution of design for the digital age, from simple replication to user experience-driven, hyper-clean interfaces, and now mobile apps are opening the door to more compelling eye-catching designs, and of a complete experience. Mobile apps provide designers not only with increasingly sophisticated tools, sensors and network features that add to a rich user experience but also a return to the appeal of the page.

Click here to read the full article: NMC Horizon Project Strategic Brief

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