The ancient Greeks wrote textbooks as an instructional tool for teachers. Since then, the book has been burned, praised, protected, worshiped, and even feared. For hundreds of years, the book represented the voice of “the expert”, implying that knowledge should transfered from one authoritative source to the layman. The print publishers of today, such as Pearsons or Oxford Press, continue to hold this editorial and distribution control over how educational tools are written and disseminated.
[Enter the Internet]
This model is old school. Paper textbooks are a vestige of a lingering industrial age.
In the same breath, I can download a lecture from iTunes U, I can download a book onto my Kindle at a click of a button, I can read the latest New York Times article on my iphone on my way to work. Amazon, Google and Apple have disrupted the publication industry by creating a more accessible network of electronic books. Gone are the days of the educated elite.
Are eBooks any different from Paper books?
There’s been huge buzz about the advent of e-authorship platforms, such as iBooks Author, Push Pop Press and Inkling, with claims that these platforms will ‘transform’ education. However, unless ebook publishers truly take advantage of their digital platforms, interactive books will be no different from those smelly dog-eared textbooks we once knew. Most of the textbooks that have been published so far, such as Al Gore’s Our Choice and E.O. Wilson’s Life on Earth are certainly superior in content and design. However, I hate to say it, but they are sprinkled with gimmicky interactions.
Cool, there are zoomable maps, moving DNA molecules. a short video of a farmer. Is that really changing the way I learn and engage with this content?
These books are beautiful in their own right. But how can we address the fact that this is just a microprocessor pretending to be a set of pages? How can we create more meaningful learning experiences?
It is my belief that electronic textbooks will be truly disruptive when we start to understand how interactive platforms enable experiential learning.
Cognitive Scientists claim that we only retain
10% from reading
20% from seeing
30% from hearing
50% from seeing and hearing
80% from doing
90% from teaching
These need not be exclusive, at least not anymore. The truly transformative interactive experiences will integrate these various forms of learning.
Four Principles on How to Make an Awesome eBook:
1. Don’t add gimmicky interactions for the sake of gimmicky interactions
Make sure your interactions are engaging and meaningful. Interaction can be fun and engaging and that’s a great hook. But go beyond that. Think about how interaction will enhance the learning experience of your user. Perhaps it’s an interactive case study, a thought experiment or a math problem. Whatever it is, design your interaction with a purpose.
2. Use Game Mechanics.
Provide instant feedback, create levels of expertise and make it fun! Codecademy does any amazing job of this. They teach non-coders how to code in an easy, straight forward and effective way by rewarding their users with leveling up and badges.
3. Make learning social.
Encourage collaboration and conversation, both online and offline. Your user will retain more information if they talk and ‘teach’ others. Creating a forum for discussion, inquiry and exploration can help to socializing learning between and among peers.
4. Connect to the internet.
Link up and link often. The web is gold mine of a diversity of thoughts, ideas and opinions. Encourage your users to think critically about the information you’re presenting them by linking them to the network of perspectives.
With that, go forth and design a game-changing book!
Tina Santiago is a researcher, interactive producer and User Experience Designer. In the last 9 years, she’s worked in Toronto, Geneva, and London in interactive media, design and sustainable business. She hold a BSc in Cognitive Psychology from McMaster University and an MBA from the University of Geneva. She is currently working as a UX Designer for Hot Studio in San Francisco.