What this post is about

Some (very late) initial thoughts on the uses and applications of iBooks and the idea of iBook development for instructional designers.

What this post is not about

This is not a detailed discussion on technical capabilities or creative development using iBooks.

Here is a summary

This post is part 2 of a 2-part posting about Apple’s iBooks. In this post, I want to record my initial reaction (as a learning design professional) to Apple’s iBook technology.

Here begins the post

Well, here they are. The much rumoured iBook Textbook. Apple’s latest addition to education using technology. Together with podcasting, iTunes university and other initiatives, these will change the shape of education, and the use of technology in education.

What are iBooks? iBooks are a software implementation for the iPad that allow developers to create interactive, rich media text books. Apple have released the code for developing iBooks for free, but of course development and use of the final product requires an Apple product.

Why do I make such grand claims about their dominance? From a technical point of view, the key to successful instructional design is to get people to work with/explore/use and process information. This post (Pulse Learning) says it very efficiently, so I link to it for economy’s sake.  Quite often, there are constraints to using technology to teach anything. You want to make the experience as rich and effective and efficient as possible. Quite often, information may need to be truncated – to keep it to the point. Perhaps all the information is provided within the scope of a course.  But within a specific topic, it may be isolated, modular, away from its natural environment (that being related concepts or important things to consider).

The iBook offers various methods for allowing the highly interactive content to be deployed, while also providing a full account of the information. Learners don’t just read text.

They can be encouraged to interact with the concepts being communicated:

  • Watch engaging/entertaining video (that might take 2 minutes to consume), rather than read dense and complex text about the relationships between things
  • Play with interactive graphs to see how adjusting X will affect Y
  • Take and keep notes directly from the text, which are then available as note cards, which help with things like revision (for students) or quick “just in time” support/reminders (for those learning work skills).
  • 3D images will also help to make text books more interesting to read.

All of this contributes to a better learning experience and the possibility of maintaining learner attention for longer than the normal 20-30 minutes of self study.

Is it all good? Well, I do have some issues…
One key market they are targeting are schoolchildren. This makes sense when one considers the size/weight of the average school bag. However, as a parent I can tell you there are several issues arising from the prospect:

  • It is an unequal world. Will children whose parents cannot afford an iPad be left behind?
  • It is an imperfect world. I wouldn’t trust my child to look after a €5 (or $5 or £5) radio and not break it. What about a €400+ device? If they (and my kids will) break their “school iPad”, what happens? Am I spending €400+ everytime they break one? Get insurance? Sure – but then they break their iPad so often,I’m probaby paying for another iPad a year anyway.

I have heard the arguments that text books are as expensive, but I don’t know whether they stretch to this cost. Furthermore, printed books can be handed down to younger children, bought/sold second hand, etc. In short, there are various factors that will mitigate the cost of text books, but these are not so easy to find for the iPad.
It is an impractical world.  (Update – please see comment below)Not every school will have a PC/Mac to load these iPads with content. Will parents need a computer? What about those who don’t quite understand the requirements of such technology (I know of someone who got an iPod, but didn’t realise they needed a computer to load content onto it). Will parents need computers and WiFi?

Why Am I So Down On This All of a sudden?
I’m not down on it at all. The first thing that does strike me is that it is a shame such a technology could not be provided in an open source model (or perhaps even the One Laptop Per Child model). Using cheap but effective technology and open source software could bring down the cost of developing and purchasing the technology. Furthermore a OLPC model could aslo have tablet computers with iBooks sent to developing countries. In short: Apple cannot be blamed for doing a good job. It is a shame that it cannot be more open and available, but Apple cannot be blamed for not being a charity.

On balance, iBooks are a definite step forward in education and the use of technology in education.

For instructional designers, I offer a tentative SWOT analysis for instructional designers in the use of iBook technology

There are many strengths in the iBook model.

  • The deployment of rich-media, engaging learning content makes everyone happy
  • One device (rather than many books) is very compelling. I worked on projects in the past where people took eLearning courses to learn about a technology, but then brought manuals to work sites where they might need them. They would need a specific workbook for a specific worksite, depending on the technology installed. An iBook textbook means all of this can be kept in one portable device.
  • Moreso, they can become a one-stop-shop for learning and reference. (Imagine reading Ullyses with a guide/dictionary/notes all built in so you aren’t grappling for the back of the book or another book – you simply tap to bring up the information you may want immediately). As an example of an adult-learner, imagine a technician having the full manual, as well as troubleshooting guides and interactive guides explaining the concepts behind a technology altogether? They can find and use the specific information they require in seconds. This could help speed up processes, especially for rarer problems people face. Similar arguments could be made in medicine (reference guides, diagnostic practices, photos of symptoms could all be provided in one place, on one sleek device), sales (product references, user guides, application guides, price points, etc.).
  • (Possibly) Automatic revision? I am unsure of this, but if iBook Textbooks are built on the app model, a publisher could keep the content in their texts up-to-date in a much quicker, much more effective method, pushing new updates so their learners/users will always be confident they have the most up-to-date information.  This could completely disrupt the textbook model, with purchasers taking a “Subscription” to a text book for core content and updates.

From an instructional design point of view, some educational technology is missing from iBook textbooks.

  • Ability to network/use forums or social media
  • Quizzes to help learners monitor their progress through a subject
  • the development of interactive scenarios

These are all regulalry used to enrich the learning experience at all levels (from school children to young and even more advance adult learners.

Perhaps this is on the horizon? Is it conceivable that someone else has already thought of this and could be developing an Android equivalent?
For instructional designers, this may mean we cannot extend/develop our learning content to the full extent that we might want. (From my own personal point of view, scenario/quiz based learning is very important). On the other hand, there could be great challenges in using the core functionality to mock things such as quizzes and scenarios (for example, if there is a function to jump to a specific page/point). However, without a dedicated quiz engine, any workaround would still lack key functionality, or make that functionality too clumsy to mock up (consider a question with several options, individual feedback for each, as part of a quiz of several questions, with feedback at the end of the quiz… that’s going to be complex)


There are obvious opportunities immediately available. Apple hook up with some publishing companies to provide a massive library of content. Their success with iTunes and the music industry would indicate that a development roadmap will be full for quite some time, and libraries of content will be released in time.
For instructional designers, this could mean opportunities within more traditional publishing houses to help them develop/redevelop a huge amount of texts into more engaging and interactive content. Whether publishing houses would go for this is anyone’s guess. I would imagine there will be a critical mass – once X number of publishers are on board, the rest may have to follow to stay relevant.

I think the biggest threat could be the model itself. Again, price is going to be a problem for many people. This might mean someone else comes along to develop an Android equivalent using cheaper hardware and OS. But then will instructional designers have to deal with development from 2 differnet operating systems (and hardware setups)?

As it is, one will need to buy a Mac to develop iBook Textbooks – which is a costly prospect to say the least.

With any technology for eLearning development, there is also the threat of instructional designers becoming lazy. You could get away with a lot of content that looks very good, but is instructionally poor if you don’t keep in mind the fundamentals of your profession. There is no inherent design/development process – this is the value you add as an instructional designer. You will still need to deal with SMEs, designers, project managers and clients. You will still be responsible for ensuring that learners using the finished contnet will learn – will achieve the objectives set out for that content.
Another threat could be that many people decide they *only* want iBook textbooks content, disregarding a lot of other content that could be more engaging/useful for learners. Without quiz/scenario based learning, this would degrade the quality of your learning product even further. Unless you could somehow hook the textbook up to an LMS, where learners could go for testing/scenarios. While this could work, it seems quite clumsy given that you’re using such a sleek model to deploy your content in the first place.


I have no doubt that the iBook Textbook is going to make serious waves – not just in school/college education, but in further education, CPD and ongoing requirements for those who work in industries where information is constantly being updated, or where typical responsibilities will often require a small library of content for reference. I myself am looking to save for a Mac for the express purpose of being ready, should (and when) the revolution hits full throttle.


What this post is about: Considerations you need to make when creating a strategy to write, develop and/or edit instructional copy. It looks broadly at structure and approach.

What this post is not about: Grammar, punctuation or sentence structure. These will be covered elsewhere

Here is a summary: Learning communication is full of paradigms, short on silly metaphors. My Horse and Cart approach aims to rectify this. Much instructional copy is poorly implemented, as writers or designers don’t consider their objectives, voice, audience or the impact of their copy. This post aims to provide suggestions to help instructional designers overcome this.

Here begins the post

This post uses a silly metaphor (horses and carts) to provide some guidance in how you should develop your instructional copy. It deals primarily with strategies to developing learning content.

The first thing to consider is the road to be travelled. Your horse and cart have to be prepared so that they can deal with the obstacles that may arise over the way. This translates to ensuring your learning content will apply to ‘real world’ scenarios. Consider:

  • What it is people should be able to do
  • Why they should be able to do it (knowing this will help you identify where knowledge can be applied elsewhere, or where learners may need to consider how best to apply the knowledge they learn)
  • What the outcomes for the learner, their organisation and/or industry should be (in this order)

Next, make sure your horse is right for the cart. This translates to ensuring your learning content is being driven by the right objectives. You should consider:

  • That the objectives all contribute to the desired outcomes of your learning project (as outlined by the Road you need to travel)
  • The objective verbs are correct. This may seem pedantic, but the difference between “understand”, “identify” and “describe” is a series of lacunas something like the great lakes.  You need to ensure the objectives you map out for the project will take the learning in the right direction and ensure learners get to where they need to be (as defined, again, by the road)
  • That your learning content directly addresses your well-defined objectives. Anything off the point should be provided as an add on (e.g. drilldown, download, “See also…” types of information. Keep the copy as sharp and focused as it can be to derive optimal effects and get learners from start to finish quickly and easily

Now, the cart itself. This is the media you are using to carry the goods. Think about carts here carefully – you don’t try to shape the goods to fit the cart (although you can do); instead, you should ensure the cart will carry the goods. You don’t carry milk in a wooden flatbed. Neither do you use a discarded oil tanker.  You also need to consider how you prevent the goods from falling out or spilling. This translates to the media you use to deliver the knowledge from you (or the trainer, facilitator, etc.) to the learner. You should consider:

  • The best format to assist the learner in retaining the knowledge. This can be a tough decision, but generally boils down to: Print, Online, Multimedia: consider permanence, access and ability or need to update, as well as how engaging the media needs to be (will learners have sufficient motivation to stick with something that is not very engaging?)
  • The best format to express the information you want to deliver.  For example, complex relationships should always be represented graphically. Steps are often better implemented in text, as you can then provide download checklists. However, some steps might benefit from a screencast.
  • The best way to structure and use that format. Never expect anyone to sit down for 60 minutes to ‘learn’. Even if you’re using Video or Flash, learners just will not concentrate for that length of time in one sitting. You need to structure your learning so that it contributes to achieving your objectives, but also is delivered in managable, engaging sections that learners can take one at a time
  • Assessment and other retention techniques and checks for understanding. Ensure that however you deliver your training, you check that learners can remember and use the information being provided.  It is next to tragic to consider a well structured and delivered learning content that people forget immediately after leaving the classroom. More and more often, I’m finding assessment and checks for understanding are being considered more important than the content itself. This may be a foolish turn of events, but the point is assessment/retention and checks for understanding are the only way to be sure that the knowledge people take on board can actually be applied to the workplace or situations they are training for. You can look at your content and say “Yes, this applies to that objective”, but without assessment you can never be sure how effective it is in doing so.

Finally, consider the wheels on your cart. This relates closely to ensuring the goods don’t fall out the back. What it entails is looking at the road, the goods being carried, the weight of it all together and ensuring the wheels will be able to support the cart, and move it along the road. Consider:

  • How robust your learning will stand up to the demands of a modern workplace. Do you ask people to take time out from work, or can they take the training in hour long bites?
  • How often does the information you are providing change? Is it about software, which may update regularly? How do you intend to deal with such changes so that 1 – the learning content stays relevant and 2 – learners themselves can be updated
  • Can the learner use what they have learned in the content and easily/directly apply it to their workplace, or tasks they are learning to perform? What is the gap between the Learning environment and the Real World environment, and how do you intend to bridge it?

Finally, keep en eye on your cart as the horse draws it. I wanted to include this last point with the Wheels, but it doesn’t really belong there, no matter how silly the metaphor can be made. Evaluation is often overlooked, but always a key driver in improving all future learning content (or indeed existing content that can be updated). Monitor every step of your instructional copy, from design and development to implementation. This will allow you to evaluate what worked best (improving your own systems), and what was most effective for learners (improving future learner engagement and success).

I hope this has been useful to you, or at the very least of interest. If you’d like to hear more about my opinions, please do leave a comment, email me at brendan-dot-strong at gmail-dot-com. If you’d like to share a link to this post with someone else, please do so!