The future of the eBook

Steve Lay HeadshotPosted by Steve Lay

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will be aware that I recently attended two events concerning the future of eBooks and how they relate to learning, education and training.

The first session was organized by CETIS which is a sort of think-tank concerning itself with the use of technology in education and, in particular, technical standards to promote it.  The second event was organized in conjunction with the International Digital Publishing Forum IDPF, the IMS Global Learning Consortium and SC36, which is a Sub-Committee of ISO/IEC, the international organization for standards.

The  topic of discussion was the future of the eBook. From the point of view of publishers, e-Books — and in particular e-Textbooks — are missing one thing: formative quizzes at the end of each chapter. From the point of view of the education sector, e-Books are missing pretty much everything that we’ve come to know and love about the web, such as social interaction and collaboration, pick and mix of individual resources and so on.  Somewhere between these two visions may lie a technical standard around which the industry can organize itself.

One recurring theme in the world of education, and particularly in higher education, is the constant reinvention of the idea of virtual learning.  Each time a new technology comes along the community pounces on the opportunity to start again and design new, more interesting versions of the worldwide web. Many of the ideas are not new but simply elements of systems that were alternatives to the web in the 1990s but which were thrown away or fell into disuse as modern web browsers took off.

Mercifully, although history is only ever written by the winners, you can still find information about many of these systems on the web itself.  For example, some of the papers on Hyper-G/Harmony and Microcosm are worth a look if you are interested in the subject. Interestingly, Microcosm was developed at Southampton University, where Tim Berners-Lee is now a professor, Open Hypermedia and the Web is a good starting point if you want to do a deeper dive.

So what is a book?  Is it any different from a website? In an always- connected world, do we even need textbooks?  The victory of the worldwide web over the other more complex systems around at the time might still contain a lesson for the developers of e-Books.

You can learn more about the session from a blog post by CETIS’ Wilbert Kraan.

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