A Look into the (Very Near) Future: Content as a Service

Grebow Dream PicThe eTextbook in 2018 will be coupled to an app that will provide you with Content as a Service. It will be designed to make learning easier and more effective. It will replace the old print (and even current online) textbook that used content as the product you bought. By 2018, you will be purchasing the services that the app and the eTextbook will provide.

Dream with me a moment …

I’m sitting at my desk in 2018. My biology eTextbook is on my tablet and my eLearning app is helping me take notes. I read the following: “The biosphere is interconnected with three other spheres of the physical environment: the lithosphere, the hydrosphere, and the atmosphere.” I press the ASK THE EXPERT button and an email form pops up. “What,” I write, “does the term Gaia have to do with all the spheres?” The answer will probably be in my inbox before I go to sleep. I watch the animation of plate tectonics, and see California start to slide toward the ocean in a massive earthquake. Skipping the I Dig the Earth game, I decide I want to test myself to see if I’m getting it.

So I touch the TEST ME button and a menu appears, asking what kind of test do I want? I say Chapter, and a test of the chapter appears. I answer the questions, get most right, and the ones I missed are automatically turned into flashcards. I skim all the sentences I highlighted when I was reading, check the notes my friends sent about the course, answer a few questions they asked, and bookmark my place. I check the times of my remaining biology courses that week, and make sure there are no tests coming up. And then I switch from the etextbook to an old Big Bang Theory that I missed.

Nice fantasy? Not at all. The eTextbook of the future is all about the idea of Content as a Service. Textbooks of the not-too-distant past were a product. You wrote them, packaged them, and sold them. Period. They were a product, often a commodity that had many versions from many authors on the same topic. As books moved from analog print to digital online, something amazing started to happen.

They were free. Not free as in no cost, although they are cheaper. They were let out of the analog prison. Think about it for a second, even though it’s such an embedded part of our lives we take it for granted. You print and bind a textbook and that’s it. You can write in the margins or highlight a passage and that’s about it. Now take that same book and put it online. Suddenly the constraints of print are gone. You can use your tablet to enlarge the print, highlight the text, and even take notes. Okay, so aside from making the font bigger it’s about the same.

Now here’s the big deal. Add an app that has been developed to help you learn. EBooks are great when you’re reading for pleasure. Reading for learning, or RFL, is an entirely different process. And the app is there to make your day. It almost magically knows you. You are connected to your fellow students and even students who have already taken the course. Your notes, highlights, and questions are all collected in one place. The eTextbook is there to help you learn. The app and the content are providing Content as a Service (CaaS). It’s the dream of Relationship Centered Learning!

Brandon Hall Group has already reviewed a number of these apps. They are designed to work with students who are learning from eTextbooks. They’re real and they are here. And they will change the way we teach and learn. Content as a Service is a new paradigm for the eTextbook. Here’s more information about CaaS if you would like to learn more.

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