What Will Textbooks of the Future Look Like? Inkling Thinks It Knows

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

By Beth Bacon

How will digital technology change learning for the next generation?  Inkling, a San Francisco-based publishing platform believes textbooks will be highly interactive, non-linear, and cloud-based. The titles will integrate all types of media—video, audio, text, photographs—as well as internet capabilities like search and social sharing.

Textbooks of the future will be interactive and non-linear.

Textbooks of the future will be interactive and non-linear.

“Our platform is ideal for highly structured, highly illustrated books,” said Dan Jost, Inkling’s Product Marketing Manager, at a recent talk at Book Expo America.

Inkling has taken a whole new approach to the content and structure of digital books. [The company has also taken a new approach to ebook sales, see “Inkling To Turn Google Into Storefront, Take Run At Amazon“.]


The founders of Inkling believe a tablet is much different from a paper book. “We’ve moved away from the eight-and-a-half-by-eleven page,” said Jost. Instead of pages that a reader turns or scrolls through, Inkling titles are structured around cards. Inkling digital titles do not need to be read in a linear way, making this platform ideal for textbooks. Digital books can include interactivity, a non-linear format, web access, social sharing, and the integration of many different media. Inkling staff members believe that if textbooks took advantage of all of these capabilities, in a simple-to-navigate environment, improvements in learning will naturally follow.

Jost’s team built the Inkling environment based on his belief that future textbooks will include the following features:

Audio: A reader can tap into a music or audio card to hear a recording of a musical score or other audio file.

Assessments: Quizzes and interactive questions can be included in the texts.

Video and 3D: Readers can control when and how long they interact with moving images.

Details for content: Readers an touch “hot spots” in the text to dig down into a higher level of detail, such as a definition, a quote, or additional examples.

Details for images: High resolution images appear small, then when a reader taps on them, they can expand to full-screen images to offer readers a closer look at the details.

Notes: Readers can “markup” their titles by inputting notes as they read.

Social sharing: Built into the Inkling platform is the ability to share cards to Facebook. Also, members of classes can share notes using the text as the basis of their discussions.

Search: Readers can search within the titles and out to the Internet. Native to Inkling is the capability for the content in cards to be served in Google.

Cloud streaming: All Inkling content is cloud-based. Even if readers purchase a complete book, they can download the title in chunks. That gives them the flexibility to access the content at the time they choose and on the device that is most convenient. Mobile users can access portions of titles on their mobile phones when they are on the go, on their desktops when they are at their offices or homes, on a tablet, or on a shared computer such as a library device, when they’re at school. Currently Inkling titles are only available for iOS devices.

Non-linear: The card-based content system allows readers to access the content in any order. “We took a modular-based approach to content, readers can organize it any way they want,” said Jost. This makes sense for a lot of educators who choose to teach their courses in a different order than it’s presented in a textbook.

Fragmented: Not only are readers able to choose which sections to download and read, they can purchase titles as complete books, or smaller, less expensive chapters. Pearson’s Campbell Biology https://www.inkling.com/store/search/?q=pearson+biology can be purchased as a complete book for $129.99 or by the chapter at about $3.99 per section. Pearson’s Nutrition textbook full price via the Inkling web site is $84.99, and each chapter is $7.99. https://www.inkling.com/store/book/nutrition-janice-thompson-and-melinda-manore-3rd/

A “production environment”

Inkling is not a publisher but a production environment, or a “Habitat” as it’s described by Inkling developers. Publishers of educational titles are paying attention to Inkling and beginning to use the Inkling Habitat to build digital content. First, they plan their title, then convert the assets into HTML5 or CSS, then import them to the Inkling Habitat. Within this production environment, digital publishers can adjust, proof, and polish their titles before uploading them to the Inkling store or another web-based digital bookstore for sale.

“The question is,” said Jost, “What will a textbook be in the future?” The team at Inkling thinks it will be modular and digital, rather than a thick paper book.

See also “Inkling Launches Habitat Interactive Content Creation Tool“.

Image by Shutterstock.

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