From education to employment

EBooks – reaching the learners that paper excludes?

Electronic courseware holds immense potential, as yet relatively unexplored says Neil Georgeson of KnowledgePoint

As Japanese readers now spend more on electronic books than any other country (according to research by Statista), it’s not surprising that the Japanese Education Ministry plans to introduce digital textbooks into schools over the next four years. It already has a policy to provide every school student with a tablet computer, so the transition to ebooks is the logical next step.

It’s a trend that’s spreading globally. The BBC says that ebooks are already used in around two-thirds of US schools, although, so far their use in the UK is ‘sporadic’. Yet according to Statista, the UK comes second to Japan in ebook spend, with US around the middle of the table below France and Germany and just above Spain and Italy.

However, the situation in the UK could change following the results of research at 40 schools across the country by the National Literacy Trust (NLT). Over around four months, 800 pupils were encouraged to read ebooks and share their thoughts about them.

As any teacher or parent trying to encourage young boys to read will know, it’s often a thankless task. In fact the NLT says that nearly twice as any boys as girls say they do not enjoy reading at all.
But it seems that ebooks made a difference to their reading habits. Over the four months, on average boys made 8.4 months progress, compared to 7.2 months progress by the girls. In particular, the change of attitude in reluctant readers was marked with a 25% increase in boys reading daily.

It makes a change to have some positive news about young people and digitisation – and, whatever your views on ebooks versus paper, it does just seem like a matter of time before they are more widely used in our schools.

But it’s not just children who will benefit. So far the teaching and learning potential of ebooks has been left relatively unexplored, but its enormity won’t be ignored for long. I was particularly interested in the comments by the Japanese education ministry panel who devised their policy. It pointed out that digital textbooks can offer videos and sound and will help students with, for example, foreign language studies. They will also make learning more inclusive serving the needs of those with impaired sight with zoom functions to enlarge text or graphs.

This is why I believe eCourseware will transform adult training and learning and development too. ECourseware is not the same as elearning. It still involves an instructor – whether they are in the same room or virtual – and learning materials take the form of a book, albeit on the screen. So students can still be given proper guidance and explanations, be encouraged and progress monitored as it would be in a conventional classroom scenario. ECourseware can be accessed both in the classroom and also after the course or lesson at home on a PC or laptop or even on the commute home on a tablet or smartphone.

Because space and colour are available at no extra cost, designers can be extravagant with both. This will help encourage student immersion in the topic and optimise information retention. In addition, it will encourage those who are more visual and spatial in their learning style and sound can be used for those who learn by hearing and listening.

There is also the option of embedding videos and other multi-media. Just think how useful a how-to video guide would be as part of course on practical skills or technical training, especially if it can be used as a reference after the course has finished.

The latest eCourseware platforms enable students to make notes, highlight and bookmark content as they might do in a paper course book and annotations are synchronised so those make in the classroom are shown when materials are accessed on a different device.

Of course there are other advantages to using eCourseware in further education too; not least the ease of distribution and lack of delivery costs. But however significant these costs savings may be, I still believe that it will be an ebook’s ability to engage otherwise unenthusiastic learners – such as the NLT’s schoolboys – that will drive take-up across the entire education spectrum.

Neil Georgeson is sales manager at KnowledgePoint

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