The Future of the eBook

The development path of the eBook within the education sector

Published: 19 July 2013

The advent of the first illustrated textbook by John Amos Comenius in the mid 17th century introduced concepts and ideas about pedagogy that still resonate today. He proposed that students could acquire ideas from objects rather than words, he firmly believed that education should be a pleasure rather than a task and the manner of teaching and learning should reflect this and that education should be universal. [1] Three centuries later, Instructional Designers and the content development teams behind many of the successful eBook titles still support and aspire to the principles set out by Comenius. The objects that Comenius refers to have morphed into interactive content, videos, 3D models, digital media, games, questions and quizzes. The use of these new media objects provides teachers and students with engaging, inspiring and enjoyable content; content that can be easily updated to reflect the changing needs and demands of the curriculum being studied. As access to more affordable networked devices spreads across the education sector we will also see a parallel growth in content distribution channels, and the eBook will form one of these channels. The use of eBooks is not yet universal; but their use will become commonplace within a ubiquitous computing environment.

The eBook will become social and we will no longer
differentiate it from the web

I am often asked about the future of eBooks within the education sector. Firstly, the eBook will become more social. This is a natural trend that is being emulated across a growing number of web based education services; such as Learning Management Systems and Learning Platforms, in networked devices that make use of social and collaborative tools and in the use of safe social media platforms such as Yammer, Socialcast and Edmodo. If a student has a query when reading an eBook he or she could post a question on the school's chosen social media platform. Students and teachers could post supporting notes and commentary on various elements of the eBook and these could be made available in real time to the reader. Students could also post video commentaries. All these interactions will be carried out whilst the student is within the eBook.

Secondly, we will no longer differentiate between the web and the eBook. The use of HTML 5, widgets and other web based protocols will increasingly link the eBook with external sources of data and services. For instance, data that is captured on an eBook activity will be shared and made visible to thousands of other teachers and students who are interacting with the same eBook title. These shared data elements may include comments, questions, queries or results from experiments and activities undertaken in the eBook. Teachers and students will access and interact with their eBook titles across many networked devices; including tablets, ultra mobile devices and via the traditional desktop PC; and regardless of the operating system being used on the networked device. Google Books is also paving the way in ensuring that the eBook becomes a vital searchable asset on the web for schools, colleges and universities across the globe. This development means that any element (words, pictures, movies, places etc) of an eBook can be referenced to many other assets on the web. Students will be able to select and click a word or an image in an eBook and it will take them to additional reference materials to support their studies.

eBook subscription and rental models will become the primary business model for publishers and distributors within the education sector

Thirdly, teachers, students and other subject experts will have the opportunity to become active contributors to the on-going development of the eBook title. This could be done on a voluntary basis or if teachers are supporting the development of many eBook titles they could be contracted by the publisher directly. The foremost criticism that schools, colleges and universities have regarding eBooks is the inability of publishers to update or refresh the content on a regular and timely basis. Historically, this has been the primary reason why many of these institutions have stopped renewing their annual subscription fees for eBooks. If publishers are to maintain the interests of teachers and students they will need to ensure that their readers become active agents in authoring and updating the content in their eBook libraries.

And fourthly, we will see significant changes in the dominant business model for eBooks. Schools do not have the appetite or the budgets to purchase eBooks outright so we will see a rise in the number of schools adopting an eBook subscription or rental model. The subscription model is not new to the education sector - just ask your school, college or university librarian for the titles covered by your institution's annual subscription fees. The rental model is a variation of the annual subscription model. It enables schools, colleges and universities to rent eBook titles for shorter or for fixed periods of time. For instance, a school could rent an eBook title on Volcanoes for the weeks when students are studying that topic. Once that topic is over, the rental period will come to an end. Publishers and distributors will continue to apply stringent controls using digital rights management tools to manage the distribution and use of their eBook titles.

The following section describes the services that are being offered by a growing number of eBook publishers and distributors. I have also listed popular authoring tools for eBooks.

Overdrive offers a subscription model for school libraries. Students login to their school's library management system to access and download over 300,000 eBooks, audiobooks, music and video titles. Students can access these titles over many devices such as desktop PCs, smart phones, tablets and dedicated eReaders. [2]

In the UK, schools have the opportunity to subscribe to Overdrive through their school library management system partners such as MLS and Softlink.




Google Books
Google Books is a service that encompasses over 30 million scanned books. Google Books enables users to carry out full text searches and it is seen as a valuable digital library that enables access to historic works for millions of students and teachers across the globe.

I mentioned earlier that the eBook and the web will be inseparable. Google Books is an example where users are able to discover books and are able to investigate the body of the text through Google search. [3]



RM Books
RM Books gives schools in the UK the opportunity to access a large variety of eBook titles. These include the classics and many titles that can be used to support the delivery of key subjects within the national curriculum.

RM uses a rental model for its eBooks. Schools search and select the eBook titles that are required by their teachers and students. The school then selects the rental period and allocates the eBook titles to its students. [4]




Amazon Kindle Whispercast
Kindle Whispercast is Amazon's mobile device management (MDM) software that enables schools to manage their Kindle devices and to effectively manage and distribute content to those Kindle devices.

The adjacent video from Amazon describes the excitement around the Kindle and how Whispercast is helping schools to manage them. The ability to manage libraries according to the needs of the learner is an important facet of the Whispercast service. [5]


Apple iBooks
Apple iBooks provides a comprehensive range of end to end eBook services.

Apple's eBook authoring tool iBooks Author and its distribution channels iTunes U and the iBooks Store provides schools with compelling reasons for using the company's eBook eco-system. [6]



Articulate Storyline  

Articulate Storyline
Articulate Storyline is an eLearning authoring tool that can be easily used by teachers and it is a software package that is used by many professional instructional designers. [7]


Adobe eLearning Suite
Adobe eLearning Suite is a comprehensive suite of software that can be used by schools to support their production of eLearning materials. Its an ideal companion for anyone interested in producing their own eBooks for their students.

The eLearning Suite includes software titles such as: Adobe Captivate, Adobe Presenter and Adobe Audition. [8]




  1. John Amos Comenius:
  2. Overdrive Service Overview:
  3. Introduction to Google Books:
  4. RM Books for Windows 8:
  5. Amazon Whispercast:
  6. Apple iBooks Author Tour:
  7. Articulate Storyline:
  8. Adobe eLearning Suite: