The Future of Books: Mixed Media and Multiple Intelligences

Erica Nielsen asked:

I am truly amazed by the amount of cynicism directed by some readers toward e-books, as if their existence were a conspiracy to render traditional books obsolete in the spirit of Fahrenheit 451. Much effort has gone into comparing e-publishing to traditional book publishing. An Internet search for “Will e-books succeed?” brings up numerous passionate articles and blogs dedicated to the concept.

Whether individuals express preference or aversion toward e-books, there are multiple reasons related to lifestyle preferences, as well as personal views on technologies, learning methods, and pleasure reading. Some people desire a familiar kinesthetic page-turning experience, whereas others readily accept that paperbacks no longer require paper.

The problem with the e-book/traditional book debate is that e-books have evolved but common perceptions of them have not. Most people are familiar with e-books only as electronic versions of their logocentric counterparts. For example, consider Powerhomebiz’s “Top Ten Reasons Why EBooks are Better than Printed Books” (http://www.powerhomebiz.com/vol127/ebooks.htm). This list offers ten convincing reasons why businesses should switch to using e-books. However, one of the most critical and defining components of contemporary e-books is barely implied:

You usually get far more than just the book. Most eBooks are sold with bonuses and related information that usually don’t come with the purchase of a traditional book. You might pay the same or even a bit more for an eBook, but you usually get more, too.

What does it mean to get far more? What are these bonuses? Perhaps the author is referring to hot-links to references and the ability to quickly search the entire e-book for a word or phrase (these features are noted subsequently in the list). Still, the definition of e-book seems rather limited to the traditional text-based approach.

What if we could depart from thinking about books as a collection of words? What if a book could contain video and audio? What if a book could evaluate the reader’s understanding of it? What if multiple intelligences do exist, and what if we could stimulate more well-rounded learning by modifying the definition of “book”?

Before I delve any further into absurdities — after all, everyone knows that words live in books, audio lives in radios, and videos live on TVs — let’s fathom to consider what might happen if these media could be happily married, and let’s use psychologist Howard Gardner’s categories of intelligence as a framework for theorizing how this might impact learning.

Verbal-linguistic intelligence has to do with words, spoken or written. Traditional books cater to this type of learning, thus it carries over to e-books. However, in e-books this kind of learning might be enhanced with audio. For example, what if a reader could click on a word to hear how it is pronounced, or roll over a glossary definition to hear it read aloud?

Musical intelligence is where a person learns aurally through rhythms. What if book text could be instantly turned into a lecture, so the reader could actually listen to the content? What if a reader could click a button to hear a clever rhyme supplemental to the text, designed to help him or her remember a concept?

Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence deals with muscle memory and learning by doing, rather than by reading or hearing. Imagine if a student could read about architectural concepts, and then follow step-by-step videos to build projects (and have the ability to pause the videos when necessary). Similarly, a dance student might find it more useful to observe and follow a video embedded within a dance theory e-book than to read about all the physiological and qualitative details of specific exercises.

Spatial intelligence is similar to bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, because it involves learning through visual aspects. People with good visual memory might benefit from embedded videos in e-books just as people more oriented toward bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, since videos potentially offer more sensory stimulation than reading alone. I say “potentially” because learning stimulation is difficult to quantify and is subjective. It is possible to be emotionally or even physically moved by written text, as people more attuned to verbal-linguistic learning might attest.

Considering these four kinds of intelligences — verbal-linguistic, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, and spatial — and assuming that people learn through different means, it becomes evident that if we assume the purpose of a book is to instruct it is better to instruct beyond a dominant framework of verbal-linguistic or logocentric intelligence. The only traditional books I’m aware of that have embedded audio, in a sense, are children’s books like Sounds of the Farm by Gail Donovan where the reader can press buttons to hear how animals sound, but the sound cannot be associated with specific parts of the book except through the possibility of textual command to the reader to push a button.

Thus far, I have argued that diverse reading experiences could be enhanced through the integration of aural and visual stimuli with traditional text-based books. However, I have only touched upon four of Gardner’s original seven intelligences. If, by this point in the article, anyone still doubts that e-books can theoretically offer a more comprehensive learning experience than traditional books, I believe any hint of skepticism will be erased after exploring what e-books could do for the remaining three intelligences.

The notion of self-reflection is a dominant theme in contemporary education theories, and was identified by Gardner as intrapersonal intelligence. Interaction with others is interpersonal intelligence, in which learning occurs through discussions and participation in group activities where a person directly encounters others’ perspectives. E-books have the ability to stimulate self-reflection and group interaction if they could be integrated with online learning platforms, thereby facilitating online discussions and journal-keeping. Furthermore, while students can self-reflect on a traditional book by making lengthy notes in a separate notebook, what if in an e-book it were possible to highlight text, type notes in a pop-up window, and even link notes to text?

Last but not least is logical-mathematical intelligence, which deals with logic and reasoning. Traditionally, instructors have been responsible for assessing students’ understanding of course concepts. But what if a student could take e-quizzes and get immediate feedback on his or her comprehension? This would certainly help students know what they needed to review before class or prior to an exam.

So, let’s stop thinking of e-books as electronic versions of the same book you could pick up at your neighborhood bookstore. What if instead they were dynamic learning environments that addressed all seven of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, and thereby provided a more engaging and meaningful learning experience to readers? Xplana Learning has assumed a leadership role in the development of interactive e-books and online learning platforms. In the above examples, Xplana answers the question “What if e-books could?” as “Yes, our e-book can.” (See http://www.xplana.com/products/products_xb.php).

In the great e-book debate, it’s time to stop worrying whether e-books will to replace traditional books. Individual preference for reading medium is largely dependant on lifestyle. E-books are venturing into a new realm that oversteps the limitations of traditional text-based books. We should be able to appreciate what e-books can add to the learning experience, and consider how we can continue developing e-books in relationship to contemporary educational theories in order to maximize learning outcomes.

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