by Joseph T. Sinclair
For a decade and a half any many colleges and universities have been putting courses online. They’ve done this for a variety of reasons not the least of which are student convenience and cost saving. They’ve use a wide variety of digital techniques and training innovations. As a result, a new generation of students have grown up using online education and feeling it’s a normal part of the training landscape.
Commercial training (postgraduate training in the business world) has followed higher education. In the last half-decade, commercial training that uses digital technology has grown by leaps and bounds. Although much commercial training has migrated to the Web, it has also migrated to tablets and even smart phones. Is difficult to find commercial training now for which you cannot get a digital format.
In addition, the high price of textbooks is finally causing migration away from print to ebooks. The format of textbooks is typically a more complex format over and above “How To” books. The graphics are typically more complex and varied, and textbooks even attempt to include light interactivity in print by doing such things as posing questions at the end of each chapter and even providing answers.
It has become clear that textbooks will continue to migrate to digital formats for two reasons. First, the high cost of textbooks can be reduced significantly. This, of course, is significant to students. Second, digital formats enable the integration of multimedia and interactive technology. These technologies are beginning to come into their own in regard to enhancing training. Consequently a digital textbook can incorporate these relatively new technologies and enhance the learning experience.
The question an author needs to ask is, what’s the difference between a printed book and a training course. On the one hand, the textbook is a standalone information product for training an individual in regard to a certain practice or body of knowledge. On the other hand, a training course is an interactive process that includes an instructor. The instructors are there to impart knowledge, ask questions, answer questions, and personalize the educational process to some extent.
One way of looking at sources of training is to take a few steps backwards. You can see a textbook at one end of a spectrum (say the left side) with interactive training at the other end of the spectrum (say the right side).
At present, the spectrum is pretty straightforward. You have the printed book at the left for which multimedia and interactivity are a great strain at best and impossible at worst. At the other end of the spectrum on the right, you have normal training within a structure that can include both multimedia (if the appropriate equipment is available) and interactivity. There is not a huge amount of continuity between the two. You do have books that come with multimedia on CDs, but although those have been popular for certain genres, they’ve never set the world on fire.
Now we have digital technology which has set the world on fire. Ebooks have become very popular even though they have weak multimedia and interactivity. Book apps have not become fashionable yet. Their popularity, however, is just around the corner. Indeed, the term multimedia, which is been used for two decades in regard to the promise of digital technology and information products, is now obsolete. The new term rich media, which doesn’t mean anything different, is associated with the advent of the merger of digital technology and learning. Consequently there is a new spectrum that looks the same but is different.
There is now a substantial continuum between an ebook and a digital training course. As an book (or book app) uses more and more rich media and interactivity, it starts to look like a training course. At some point in the integration of rich media and interactivity into a book app, it does become in effect a training course.
For instance, a book app can have an exam (questions) that is self grading. It can have calculators, simulations, and databases. It can, in effect, duplicate an online university course, albeit without the instructor. In the new mobile digital environment, the difference between a book and a training course becomes less clear than it is today.
Ultimately, the difference may be defined externally to the digital book or training course. For instance a training course might include a communication link to a live instructor affiliated with an educational institution and may have some kind of authenticated testing. A book would presumably not have such facility. If book and training traditions continue, a book will be self-contained solely for the interaction of the reader. A training course will be integrated into some scheme of non-digital instruction affiliated with a training enterprise.
Except for these differences, however, a rich media digital book and digital training course might look very much the same. The primary point to be made is that the difference between a book and a training course will be very much blurred in the future with the rich media capabilities of book apps and even ebooks.
The blur is obvious for How To books, informational books, and textbooks. What about other kinds of books?
Most other kinds of books fall into the general category of fiction. Fiction books are more closely related to art than they are to training. Hence, how to use rich media and interactivity for fiction books is a matter for artists (authors) rather than those writers who simply write to instruct; and the story of rich media for fiction is beyond the scope of this article. In a sense, rich media digital publishing technology provides fiction writers with a brave new world that they are only beginning to explore.
For those who write to instruct, digital rich media is not so new. The only thing new is that it’s now possible to pull it all together with inexpensive software to be viewed on a universal device (smart phone/tablet) owned by five billion people worldwide. But that in itself is a revolution—one that now changes the delivery of information radically.
The author of this article, Joseph T. Sinclair, is the author of twenty How To books published by national publishers.
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©2014 Joseph T. Sinclair. All rights reserved.