The Textbook of The Future

As I’m digging deeper into textbooks, I’m noticing that the more I dig, the murkier it gets. A lot of people are attempting to redefine what textbooks will become, but in order to aim for their future form, a look into what a traditional textbook is seems appropriate.

David Warlick collected ideas from his personal learning network on what traditional textbooks are, and how the next generation of textbooks will be different. To that impressive list of characteristics, I would also add that traditional textbooks are linear, sequencing learning in a prescribed way.

The Fluid Textbook

Jed Macosko, an associated professor of physics, and A. Daniel Johnson, a senior biology lecturer at Wake Forest University, North Carolina, have developed a new format for a Biology textbook called BioBook. The whole idea was to create a book where learners can go at their own pace and explore the content in a non-linear way.

It has been shown that humans learn best when they can put facts into the order that makes the best sense to them. That seems pretty logical, but nobody ever uses this concept when they develop textbooks.

They are using the open-source Moodle learning management system (LMS) as an underlying technology. About the linearity of the traditional textbook, Macosco says:

The hard part is making sure people don’t get lost. The nice aspect of linear textbooks is that you know where you are and where you have been. The tricky part will be taking people who are accustomed to that style of text and letting them choose their own adventures.

The Container/Content Paradox

Although textbooks have always contained exercises and case studies, their realm has mostly been content. But as we’re seeing with the BioBook, the textbook is now creeping on the space once reserved for the learning management system, accepting more and more assessment activities inside the textbook itself. It does make a lot of sense to include a quiz right after a chapter and gather the results electronically right there… if the textbook is all you cover for a class.

So my questions to you are the following:

1) In which scenarios does using the LMS as the outer container make sense?

2) Do you envision a day where the textbook will make the LMS completely obsolete, and what would be the conditions that would allow this to happen?


2 thoughts on “The Textbook of The Future

  1. the best thing about “next” textbooks are that they are a two way medium,a social motorscape between educator and student,where a pool of thought and ideas are created on mutual ground,it might take some time to catch on,but could be a vaible option in the future.

    • Very good way to put it. I think that if we had to start from scratch and invent what a textbook is today, it would very much be what you describe. Breaking the habit is the hard part.

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