mobile learning

Mobile learning is rapidly making its way into organizations across the globe. For many instructional designers and developers, learning about new technology, platforms, and ways of building content can be daunting. We are expanding our skills to include understanding HTML5, responsive design, and device affordances, just to name a few. In the world of native apps versus mobile web, an exciting solution is sometimes overlooked: interactive e-books.

What exactly is an interactive e-book? Similar to a ZIP (.zip) folder, an e-book is a collection of assets, files, and so forth packaged into one independent file. This file can be un-packed and run using an e-reader application, such as Apple’s iBooks, Kobo, Adobe Digital Editions, or Kindle. The most versatile file format for an e-book is EPUB (.epub), but there are others such as MOBI (.mobi) for Kindle and iBook (.ibook) for Apple’s iPad.

But why would you even consider e-books as an ideal mobile learning solution? Here are my top three reasons:

#1: E-book components are built much like a website, making a high level of interaction possible.

E-books leverage HTML and CSS to provide structure and design. The most recent version of EPUB—EPUB3—takes more full advantage of HTML5, enabling rich, flexible interactivity and ability to track user interaction with xAPI. Simply put, pretty much anything you can do with a website, you can do in an e-book.

#2: E-book content is available online and offline, resulting in an ideal native mobile solution.


If you have users that are not always connected when they need access to information, interactive e-books are an excellent option. An e-book can be downloaded to the user’s device for offline access. Depending on the platform you use to support deployment, you may even be able to track how users interact with your content offline, accessing the information when they are connected again.

#3: Building an e-book does not require advanced programming skills, and can be created in tools you may already use.

Most tools used to build interactive e-books are either free or relatively inexpensive. If you have access to Adobe’s Creative Cloud, you can use InDesign and Digital Publishing Suite to build e-book experiences. Google’s long-time open source project, Sigil (available on GitHub) is a free, well-supported tool that is very easy to use. There are also proprietary options. For example, Apple’s iBooks Author, is completely free, unbelievably easy to use, and an excellent option if you only need to support content on an iPad.

Bottom Line

If you are looking for ways to bring mobile learning into your organization, explore the possibilities of interactive e-books. Building them can be as simple as creating a document, or you can build more in-depth options that include 3-D modeling, videos, audio, and other activities. For a high-fidelity example of what is possible with e-books, take a look at E.O. Wilson’s Life on Earth (available in Apple’s iBook store).