Linear vs Non-Linear (eTextbooks) – The 2015 Overview

THE eleven months separating the amazing 2014 EVO ePerfect eTextbook session and the current session have brought me plenty of experience, fruitful mistakes, breakthroughs and reflections.

Let’s observe our good old paper textbooks before we dump them. When they are good, they provide careful, neat organization of content, which is coherent, consistent and well-designed. Students can count on indexes, glossaries, a well-built table of contents, so that the desired info is found easily and quickly. The graphic lay-out follows the rules Walton Burns aptly enumerated in his videotutorial. With some luck, images are not there just for decoration.

Shouldn’t we learn from expert publishing houses?

No wonder our students feel supported by (the best) traditional paper textbooks and look for similar resources online.

It’s like knowing a language. When you always read from right to left (millions of people do), you expect to always do so.

Another great point in favour of a linear organization of our material is Time. We deliver our knowledge within what we perceive as the well-ordered flowing of Time, lesson after lesson, day after day, term after term… We can’t fail to consider this fact when we design our curriculum (“What will I deal with first? What after that?”).

So, is there any point in going non-linear? Indeed there is, as Time is only one dimension of experience.

The digital world is not organized in a linear way, nor are mobile devices. Most of us move swiftly among content when searching the net, usually prompted by some visual code that we have intuitively learned to read through trial-and-error practice (i.e. Blue? It’s a link!)

As a result, if we are online, we may reproduce the linear paper organization of content, but we are certainly acting non-linear.

Is this completely new?

Of course not. Young children have always explored the world in a non-linear way, as a well-ordered mind is developed later,through the training of the rational faculties. But nowadays digital learners are more and more reluctant to give up non-linearity. This behaviour is ingrained deep in their learning mode. It is by now a sort of cognitive alphabet.

Long text? Yuk!
Nothing visual? Down with it!
(Plenty of academic literature on the phenomenon, with Marc Prensky and Don Tapscott coming first to my mind)

In conclusion, there are very good reasons for going either linear or non-linear – possibly both, with different goals in mind and necessarily using different digital tools to create our content.

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