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The Next Disruption in Digital Learning
Tyde Richards and Robby Robson
IEEE Learning Technology Standards Committee
MAR 12, 2014 14:41 PM
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The next disruption in digital learning is already here, but like the future, it's not evenly distributed. This disruption represents the integration of eLearning, publishing, and digital media, and the form of this disruption is the new EPUB 3 format developed for digital publications by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF). At a technical level, EPUB 3 provides an open content framework for structuring, packaging, and mobile delivery of HTML5 content in a way that's accessible to diverse users in diverse environments.

But what does this actually mean?

For one thing, it means that eBooks are no longer just static books made digital. The transition to HTML5 and the W3C Open Web Platform opens up new, unexplored worlds of interactivity. For another thing, the same content may be used simultaneously on mobile devices and other platforms, as well as adapted to meet individual preferences and needs, including accessibility-related needs. A commuter on a noisy train can consume it as easily as a student hanging out on a balcony or a worker on a high-bandwidth connection in a modern office. Yet, that's not all. It also solves the business problem of consolidating content into a single, standardized format that can be conveniently managed for print, mobile, and desktop delivery. A case in point is IBM's recent decision to support EPUB as the company's primary packaged portable document format.

For business, multichannel publishing is a big deal. For education, EPUB 3 might be even bigger. When it comes to learning materials, texts and multimedia have led separate lives. Inspired by EPUB 3, an alliance called EDUPUB is arranging for a marriage. EDUPUB is an alliance among IDPF, W3C, and the IMS Global Learning Consortium to develop a profile for the education sector. Using EPUB 3, the same underlying content will support a continuum of interactivity, from static presentation to interactive quizzes and simulations, forever changing our picture of what a textbook is and how it's used. It will also change how textbooks interact with each other.

Textbooks interact with each other?

Today they don't, but behind the scenes learning-technology vendors have been adopting a technology called the experience API (xAPI). Originally developed by the US Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative, xAPI is beginning the path toward formal standardization in the IEEE Learning Technology Standards Committee, which is also exploring its use in EPUB 3 through the IEEE Actionable Data Book, an open R&D collaboration. The xAPI is a cloud-compatible technology that enables learning content to exchange activity stream data with cloud-based repositories. Once posted, any learning application can (with permission) retrieve and process data produced by any other application, including an eBook. This provides the infrastructure needed for large scale "learning analytics" and enables textbooks to be dynamic — for example, by displaying real-time data, creating collaborative exercises, and linking to the Internet of Things.

As exciting as this is, it is not a "done deal." Ample opportunities exist for IEEE Computer Society members to get involved as volunteers in these projects and others that this new technology will spawn.

We welcome participation from practitioners with use cases to address and technical knowledge to contribute. For more information please send an email to

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About Sorel Reisman

Sorel Reisman

Sorel Reisman is the Managing Director of the international consortium, MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching) in the California State University Office of the Chancellor, Professor of Information Systems at California State University, Fullerton, President Emeritus (2011) of the IEEE Computer Society, editor-in-chief of the IEEE eLearning Products and Services Committee, and member of the board of the Open Courseware Consortium (OCWC).

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