Hands On Guide: How We Used iBooks Author to Replace PC-Based eLearning

January’s announcement of iBooks Author, Apple’s free tool for creating multi-touch books for the iPad, was big news for educators. And while most of the focus has been on textbooks and classroom learning, we think there is a huge opportunity for workplace learning and training to leverage iBooks as well. For companies already using iPads in their organization, an iBook is a great way to deliver content. When Dow Agrosciences, one of our long-standing clients, asked us to create an iBook for field reps with little to no internet connectivity, we jumped at the chance to learn about the tool. We are thrilled with the result…so much so that BLP president Sharon Boller and Dow’s Karla Simpson presented the iBook at the 2012 mLearnCon conference in San Jose.

We expect to see iBooks replace many “click next to continue” eLearning courses for companies who have adopted the iPad. The wide variety of widgets and customizable HTML5 elements in the iBook make it a versatile medium, even without hefty programming know-how. And it’s just down-right enjoyable to navigate an iBook with your finger instead of clicking that dreaded “next” button.

There were not too many how-to guides out there on getting started with iBooks Author when we began our project, and most of the information we did find was introductory in nature. So if you are considering exploring this relatively new medium for your eLearning, have a look at what we loved and what challenged us during our first iBook project.

What We Loved:

1. Distribution: Distributing your iBook could not be simpler. If your content is not proprietary, you may want to put it on the iBooks store. This is free and your learners will have no trouble downloading the book. When the content is proprietary, you can export the iBook and e-mail or send it to whoever you want. We created a webpage with a link users can click to download the iBook right to their iPad. For corporate use, we think this option makes a ton of sense.

2. Keynote widgets and HTML5: The experience of using Keynote to create widgets and putting them in iBooks Author is one of the best parts of using the tool. If you have some programming know-how, you can create HTML5 objects and insert in your course as well. As development increases with iBooks Author, we predict there will be many custom Keynote and HTML5 widgets available for purchase and free download from independent developers. The possibilities for development with iBooks Author will only increase as more developers experiment with Keynote and HTML5 widgets.

3. Offline viewing options: Once an iBook is downloaded to your iPad, it works anywhere. You won’t need your users to have access to the internet to read your book and get your content. This was a major benefit for Dow, who have many reps and clients away from regular internet access.

4. Surprising Amount of Customization: At first glance, iBooks Author looks to have some pretty linear options for customization. Never fear: you are not locked in to the basic templates! While you must start with one of Apple’s preset templates, it is easy to customize. Having the template to start with helped us see how the iBook was set up, and to create your own all you have to do is delete everything, set styles, and add your images. You can even save your custom template to use later.

What Challenged Us:

5. Table of Contents customization: The table of contents is the least customizable part of the iBook…so what you see is what you get. The table of contents automatically uses whatever name you give your chapters. This might sound convenient, but it can be challenging depending on how you want to customize your iBook. If you want to use an iBook to replace eLearning, there are some features you will just have to live with.

6. Linking to specific pages: You CANNOT link your users to a specific page in your iBook unless it is a chapter header….at least, not without getting a little creative. We found a work-around by creating a widget, leaving it empty, and linking it to another page. You will notice a slight delay before the page loads, but this trick will get the job done.

7. No feedback for quizzes: While you can create quizzes in your iBooks, the feature is limited. When you click submit, it shows you the correct answers and does not give you a chance to retake the quiz. This means you cannot expect to use iBooks Author to replace a course with an in-depth knowledge check component…so you will have to sharpen your focus. Remember to use an iBook when you need to share information and provide an on-the-go learning tool.

8. Font availability: While we are overall impressed with the customizability of the iBook, there are a limited number of fonts available for use in the program. It’s not terrible (you get about 50 to choose from), but when you compare that to the almost unlimited number of fonts available in other programs, it could become a constraint. Most developers will likely not find this an issue, especially for eLearning where fonts will tend to be pretty “normal-looking.”

9. Differences Between Landscape and Portrait Mode: While your content looks great in landscape mode in an iBook, portrait mode is essentially a PDF view of the content. Since Dow’s iBook is not text-heavy, we locked the iBook in landscape mode. When designing an iBook, be aware your content will not show up the same in portrait mode. We recommend locking to landscape mode in most cases when designing an iBook.

The Verdict:

Full service learning design companies with dedicated designers will fall in love with iBooks Author and the possibilities it offers….just like we have. For companies used to awareness driven Articulate courses and Powerpoint slides, an iBook is a breath of fresh air. With the addition of Adobe CS6 and some graphic design know-how, an iBook becomes a compelling option. Apple has dropped a gift in the eLearning industry’s lap. Any company that has made a commitment to iPad can use iBooks to distribute information easier than ever before.

Interested in an iBook solution for for your company? We’d love to chat.

Download the iBook and See For Yourself!

You can download an iBook of Sharon and Karla’s mLearncon presentation here.

  • MayraAixaVillar

    Outstanding job, guys! Congratulations for this very interesting initiative, for your new website and for all the great stuff you always share.

    • Steve Boller

      Thanks Mayra! Same to you…love your tweets and posts.