Reinterpreting the great works


A friend in the industry recently suggested that it is possible to learn almost anything online today. ‘Anything that doesn’t involve manual work at least’ he quickly vouchsafed. In no mood for an argument, I conceded he was probably right. It was only when I reflected later on his statement that I realise that it probably wasn’t true. Indeed we still have a long way to go before we reach this utopian idyll.

There are a number of reasons for this. Many are associated with the nature of a subject, its ‘learning philosophy’ and measurement. Any classics or arts university lecturer would tell you it’s not just about the learning content but discovering how to learn, question and imagine. This is undoubtedly true. But back in the real world, there are still other more profound reasons for this. One of the most interesting surrounds the learning content itself, much of which, even in higher education today, has always been published initially, in good old fashioned book form. And it is in this form they substantially remain. Good online versions of classic texts are still surprisingly rare.

Obviously there are reasons. We should consider the publishers’ motivations for a start. After all, as they say, ‘if it ain’t broke, why bother fixing it?’ It is the publisher that still makes solid income out of these books so why change a winning formula? Moreover, when any book which has been printed over and again, the production costs become really low. Traditional learning supporters will also point out that the nature of these set-books is that they must be referred to time and again. Any item used repeatedly increases the arguments for having a hard copy.

But reasons for creating new digital interactive versions of classic text books are also growing. The unrelenting argument is that accessing information online is now the norm. Making students use a book is becoming an exception. One issue that has limited acceptance may be that that ‘traditional elearning’ (sometimes disparagingly referred to as ‘page-click’) didn’t really add much to the party. But of course that too is changing rapidly. So for instance, the Netex learningCoffee solutions mixes the written word, video, class feedback and user experience to create that richer and evolving piece of learning content that obviously adds up to more than just the published book. Something serious publishers like Cambridge Press have successfully noted and acted upon.


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Martin Belton

Martin is a director of Ascot Communications, one of the UK’s leading consultancies working with learning technology organisations. He has presented on stages as far afield as Tokyo and Los Angeles and authored more papers on elearning and IT than he, or anyone else, cares to remember.