The Advancement of E-books: Opportunities for Organizational Learning

Reading has been a staple of learning for countless generations. Reading opens the door to new ideas and perspectives, from people past and present and it invites us to think critically about life and the world around us. We read fiction and non-fiction. We read books, magazines, and newspapers. We read for work, for school, for individual pleasure and for social engagement. For most of our history, reading has occurred either through the oral or printed ink tradition. The rise of e-books is changing the way that we read and the way that we learn through reading.

Consider structured avenues for learning in three areas: social book clubs, academic courses, and corporate learning programs. Social book clubs typically operate on a simple structure: a group selects a book to read, individuals read the book at home and make notes on their reading experience and the group gets back together to discuss the book in detail. Academic courses are comparable: reading assignments are given, students go home and read, and the material is brought up through lecture, discussions in class or online, or through assessments. Corporate learning programs often follow a structure similar to the social book club or academia depending on the intended outcome. What is the common thread between each of these learning-through-reading programs? People tend to read alone, think alone, and then later get together with other people to discuss the text. Contemporary e-books offer an opportunity to flip how we engage learners socially through reading.

So, what constitutes an e-book? Given lower production and distribution costs, some books are the same as those in standard print, but some books are only available in an e-format. An e-book can be something you download, such as a file or an app, but an e-book can also be cloud-based. You may be able to buy the rights to an e-book for a limited time or for a lifetime. Format, access, and price are areas where e-books are rapidly evolving. Two more recent developments in e-books are beginning to open new doors to changing how reading is implemented in learning programs: device accessibility and social engagement.

BYOD, (bring your own device), is changing accessibility. Often, devices that individuals bring into the classroom or workplace aren’t traditional computers, but smartphones or tablets. When e-books first arrived, niche e-reader devices like the Kindle were popular. The boom in mobile and BYOD has ushered in new possibilities for e-books. More than ever, apps are supporting e-books on multiple mobile devices, whether it is an app for a specific book, apps from major publishers or traditional e-book content deliverers. In addition, mobile devices lead to web connectivity, where e-books are surging.

The rise in e-book accessibility coupled with BYOD means there are people in the workplace with connected devices and access to e-books. Often, devices that are brought in are newer and more portable than what an organization can provide, due to resource constraints. That is not to say there are not challenges. BYOD also means organizations need to consider how they can support such a variety of devices, while also maintaining security of networks and data.

BYOD provides a resource friendly way to get e-books into the hands of our workforce, but that alone doesn’t enhance learning. Social engagement is the key. In print, people often use a highlighter, write notes in margins or put a sticky note on a page to annotate. When e-books first arrived, this functionality was transferred to the e-book. The primary downfall was annotation happened in isolation. Annotation is now arriving at the social level. E-books are allowing individuals to make notes, link to websites, link to other texts, or images, and do so whilst others are reading the same text at the same time. Social annotation means learning from others can happen in the moment. You no longer have to wait to post to a forum, or to meet face-to-face; you can engage with others as you read. This opens the door to a richer and more engaging learning experience outside of the traditional, formal learning structure.

As you consider reading as part of your next learning program, reflect carefully on how e-books with social annotations can be incorporated. Opportunities are abound to create formal assignments, to promote informal learning interactions, and to change what happens when you meet face-to-face completely. Ultimately, fully engaged participants in your programs are the goal. The more learners are engaged, the more likely it is they will persist and obtain the desired knowledge, skills and abilities you seek to foster in your learning programs.

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