Engaging Readers in the Digital Age

Digital technology is expanding the relationship between readers and books far beyond static words on a page. Publishers are embedding multimedia, developing interactive and adaptive e-textbooks and learning platforms to improve learning outcomes, and embracing social media to connect readers to authors, new titles and other readers.

    Interactive Works Enrich the Reading Experience

    Every digital user knows that books in digital form can be so much more than a print twin, and they expect publishers to deliver on this promise. Educators want interactive content that can assess topic comprehension and retention at an individual level. Hobbyists want multi-media how-to books with embedded videos. Professionals want audio books that sync to their e-books to enjoy a seamless reading experience. Social media users want to follow and chat directly with their favorite authors.

    These consumer demands are opportunities for publishers to push beyond the four corners of print books.  Today, publishers are taking e-books beyond embedded links and searchable content to adaptive, interactive e-textbooks and courseware, integrated multimedia, and seamless social media features to connect readers to authors, new works and each other. 

    Engaging Students for Improved Learning

    In our knowledge-based, tech-savvy economy, attaining a college degree is of the utmost importance. Yet far too many college students are not academically prepared to complete their studies, are never awarded a degree and fail to reach their full potential.

    According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, only 33% of students who enroll in a four-year institution will graduate within four years. The silver lining is that modern technology is giving publishers, policymakers, faculty and university administrators an opportunity to work together to develop tools to maximize student success and lower costs.

    Find Out More: Publishers Lead Dialogues with Universities

    How AAP is bringing stakeholders together to increase awareness of how technologies can reduce costs and improve student success.

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    In particular, higher education publishers and digital learning companies have dedicated themselves to helping college students earn their degrees with new “enhanced e-textbooks” and innovative personalized learning technologies.

    Enhanced E-Textbooks

    Enhanced e-textbooks are designed to offer functionality and rich multimedia content that go beyond what print textbooks can offer.  By embracing the dynamic nature of digital content and platforms, publishers are making educational content more interactive and increasing student engagement, motivation and productivity.

    Rather than trying to analyze flat, static images of the Mona Lisa, art history students can get an interactive tour of the Louvre and analyze da Vinci’s brush strokes and use of color first-hand. 

    Source: AAP-member publisher enhanced e-textbook

    Publishers are either partnering with technology companies or expanding their own in-house operations to integrate media, interactivity and other learning tools into e-textbooks that students, parents and instructors can access online, on computers and on their mobile devices. Functionality ranges from simple highlighting, note-taking and searching text, to allowing users to generate flash-cards and self-quizzes, to involving students with highly interactive videos, animations and 3D models (such as for chemical molecules). 

    To make these enhanced e-textbooks more widely available, many publishers provide access through new e-textbook delivery models, such as subscriptions and rentals.

    Find Out More: Expanding Consumer Choice

    How publishers are investing in new digital delivery options to expand access and reduce the cost of books and journals.

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    Adaptive Education & Digital Learning Platforms

    Beyond e-textbooks, or even enhanced e-textbooks, many preK-12 and higher education publishers are providing schools and students with original content integrated into digital learning platforms—web-based learning systems that use artificial intelligence to continuously assess, and adapt to, each student’s unique learning needs throughout a course.

    Personalized learning technology integrated into these digital learning platforms assesses where a student is strong in a subject and where improvement is needed.  The technology then uses that information to focus on the areas where a student may need to spend more time.  For instance, quizzing students on problem areas, highlighting text to emphasize where students need special attention, and, as the student works through a course, periodically reassessing the student to ensure that topics learned are also retained.

    Instead of just reading about how to solve a calculus problem, these interactive systems take the student through the process, explain each step and correct mistakes on the spot.

    See sample videos of Digital Learning Platforms from AAP members.

    Personalized or  “adaptive education,” is part of a nationwide trend to use technology to enhance learning outcomes by providing a more individualized learning experience that delivers student instruction, immediate feedback, proof of progress as students gain proficiency, and analytics for instructors. Topics can cover the full gamut of schooling: math, chemistry, physics, biology, psychology, sociology, business, science, behavioral science and more.

    Find Out More: Digital Learning Revolution

    Learn more about publisher investment in technologies that can improve student learning outcomes.

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    Customizable Curricula - Integrating Commercial and Open Education Resources

    Other digital-enabled features of learning platforms that publishers are exploring include customizable curriculum tools that professors can use to design course reading and learning; testing and assessment tools; and supplemental digital content that students, parents and educators can use to track a student’s progress and extend learning on devices beyond the classroom.

    Digital learning platforms can be bundled with digital or hardcopy textbooks or paired with open educational resources. Commercial publishers and open source producers often partner to provide students and faculty with digital offerings rich in content. Instructors have the unique ability to customize these digital platforms to more closely match their course structure and what they want students to learn.

    All of this flexibility is often available to schools at lower cost than traditional hard-bound books.  For instance, the use of a particular digital platform in six separate courses improved student performance in each course and reduced institutional costs from 10 to 35 percent.  Moreover, another study showed that the cost savings for students when shifting from print to digital platforms could be as much as 60%. 

    Educational Impact of Adaptive Digital Content

    Independent studies and reviews of new digital learning products from many publishers are showing double-digit improvement rates:

    • Student Performance Improves: In a study of one publisher’s platform, students were tested upon entering a course and upon the conclusion of the course. Those students who used both the textbook and the digital learning platform experienced a 79 percent improvement rate, compared to a 51 percent improvement rate for those who used only the textbook. 
    • Graduation Rates Improve: A study of more than 700 students at six distinct institutions found use of a specific digital learning platform increased their performance. Students using the platform increased their grades by one full letter, with more B students getting As, and more C students getting Bs. Community college students participating in the study saw their graduation rates improve by 12.5 percent and their retention rate increase by 10.5 percent.

    Students in need of remedial education also benefit from using digital learning platforms that provide additional instruction where needed and personalized instruction to adapt to the unique needs of each student. Today’s technology can even send real-time results to inform instructors on how individual students and whole classes perform so the instructor can adapt their in-class instruction.

    According to the Book Industry Study Group (BISG), about 20 percent of all faculty currently employ digital learning platforms in their classes, and the vast majority are interested in how they can employ new technology to benefit their students. 

    Overall, because digital learning platforms allow for automatic grading and immediate, individualized feedback, instructors have more time to focus on student comprehension and engagement—creating an environment for improved learning outcomes.

    Using Social Media to Connect with Readers

    People love to share and talk about the books they’re reading—and it’s one of the most important ways people discover books. Publishers are embracing social media to bring this conversation into the digital age—expanding upon discovery tools like magazines, newspaper book reviews, book clubs—to personally connect readers with authors, editors and other readers.  Today, with millions of readers logging online to search for their next book among countless titles, social media is helping to spread the word about recent releases, hidden gems and perennial classics through a personalized the experience.  Whether through author tweets and blogs, customized reading suggestions, or opportunities for avid readers to post their own creative expression on fan fiction sites, publishers are using social media to help readers find and interact with books they’ll love.

    Connecting Authors and Readers

    Many publishers use Twitter and Facebook to hold book-club type activities, invite readers to talk about a title or hop onto a chat, post links or live tweets about an event or author tour, and organize discussions between authors and readers. They promote their authors’ Facebook pages to help them build a following or use Tumblr’s social networking website to post microblogs about their authors and titles, enabling readers who follow Tumblr to stay current and learn about new works.

    Discovery of New Works

    In 2014, Forbes noted that “the biggest obstacle for authors is discoverability—to rise above the noise and clutter and distinguish one’s work.” Publishers are turning to many forms of social media as a highly effective way to increase book discovery. For instance:

    • Some publishers are partnering with social services like Pinterest where readers can quickly post about their favorite authors and titles, and publishers and authors can watch what’s trending among millions of users.
    • More than a dozen publishers joined up in 2013 to found Bookish, a social media site that connects readers with books and authors, offers information on upcoming books and personalized recommendations. The site’s seamless interface with Facebook, Twitter and e-commerce partners enables readers to share ratings and book reviews with others, and to purchase print or e-book versions directly online.
    • The world’s largest free social networking platform for “book lovers” is Goodreads, which lets registered users post reading lists (current and future reads), reviews and ratings and to see other users’ bookshelves, reviews, etc. In early 2015, the site had more than 900 million titles listed. Readers are encouraged to join Goodreads discussion groups, start a book club, contact authors, and post their own writing. Publishers and authors, in turn, can use the site to publicize book signings, write blogs, share book excerpts in advance of publication to develop a fan base, organize book giveaways, and find other creative ways to advertise their books to Goodreads’ 30 million registered readers.

    Fan Fiction Sites

    Fan fiction sites are where fans write their own follow-on stories based on the characters in books, TV shows, movies and games. Some publishers have welcomed these sites as ways to discover fresh new authors and bring their works to broader audiences, as well as engage with their titles’ biggest fans.

    In 2014, Simon & Schuster published Brittany Geragotelis’ fan fiction “Life’s a Witch” and teamed up with the fan fiction site, Wattpad, to “expand upon the fanbase [she originally] created there by releasing exclusive Life’s a Witch content to [her] Wattpad fans.”

    Other publishers, however, do not allow fan fiction without their authorization.  Authorization is generally required under the U.S. Copyright Act because “follow-on” works are considered “derivative works” over which the copyright owner has control, but fair use may permit fan fiction without authorization in certain cases.

    Recognizing this need for an authorized environment for fan fiction, Amazon has a licensed platform (Kindle Worlds) where fan fiction writers can sell their creative works based on books and other works for which Amazon has pre-cleared licensing rights from the original copyright owners. Amazon pays royalties to both the original copyright owner and the fan fiction writer, creating a new way to generate income. 

    Additional AAP Resources

    Studies that illustrate the impact of digital learning platforms.

    Digital Learning Revolution brochure

    Digital Learning Revolution one-page summary

    AAP Back to Campus

    Journey of Learning video

    University Dialogue series

    See Also

    Higher Education Committee

    What’s Next for E-Textbooks (Campus Technology)

    What Lies Ahead for the Digital Learning Revolution (USA Today, Media Planet insert)