Who ever said the best way to read a textbook was from the start to finish?
At the Consumer Electronics Show Monday night McGraw-Hill Education MHP -0.49%, a division of the McGraw-Hill Companies, will demonstrate its new adaptive e-book for students dubbed “SmartBook,” which promises to “break the centuries-old tradition of books as linear experience.”
Expanding upon student learning behavior collected from McGraw-Hill’s existing suite of educational software, the SmartBook promises to adapt textbook material to suit the paces and grasp of individual learners.
“This is about breaking a model that isn’t really working” in education, said Brian Kibby, president of McGraw-Hill Higher Education, in an interview.
The SmartBook (not to be confused with the ill-fated mobile devices with the same name that were promoted a few years ago at CES) works like this: All readers essentially see the same textbook as they read for the first five minutes. But as a reader answers review questions placed throughout the chapter, different passages become highlighted to point the reader to where he or she should focus attention.
“It changes what is normally a static product to something that’s individualized to the learner,” said Ulrik Christensen, Chief Executive of Area9, the McGraw-Hill partner that developed the technology behind SmartBook.
The e-book will initially work on computers, as well as tablets using Apple and Android operating systems. It will have full functionality both online and offline.
The company pulls from an “enormous database” of student behavior models that drive the software to chart the most efficient path to learning a subject area, Mr. Christensen said. “Everything that you do is being tracked and it assesses you throughout” the questions and answers in each chapter, he said.
McGraw-Hill’s Mr. Kibby predicted that in 36 months, “what we will see is that we won’t be offering print textbooks” but “dynamic, adaptive, personalized learning environments” instead. The company plans to make the SmartBook product available for about 90 different course areas in the late spring.
The K-12 e-learning market in the U.S. is roughly $5.4 billion currently, a tiny portion of the money spent on traditional educational materials like textbooks. While the market is growing, a number of companies including News Corp NWSA -0.25%., which owns The Wall Street Journal,Pearson PLC PSON.LN -0.25%and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co. are vying for a piece of the pie. Meanwhile, states have been cutting back on spending on textbooks.
But McGraw-Hill executives say that the new adaptive e-books will offer better learning methods for a cheaper price than traditional textbooks. Mr. Kibby and Mr. Christensen said that they have seen a lot of demand for their learning products coming from individual students and parents rather than just educators and school officials.
McGraw-Hill Education has yet to set a price for the SmartBook, though the company says it will be in line with standard e-books. The company’s education software called LearnSmart currently costs $20 to 25 per semester.