McGraw-Hill announces launch of the SmartBook

Investor company Apollo’s recent  $2.5bn investment in McGraw-Hill Education is starting to bear fruit. At the International Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas this month, McGraw-Hill Education gambled on the launch of suite of adaptive learning products for higher education;  most interesting among these is the SmartBook, which uses sophisticated software to improve learning and student performance. Actually of course plans for this project were well advanced before the investment, but such products are potentially more nails (there are lots already) in the coffin of the traditional coursebook.

A promo view of McGraw-Hills SmartBook interface

New technology tends to replace old when it can do stuff that cannot be achieved by more traditional methods, and when the cost comes down. A classic example is the field of popular photography, where the joy of viewing photos and videos instantly – a huge benefit – became mainstream when cameras started cost so little that consumers could afford to replace them every year or two with the latest model.

McGraw Hill’s new SmartBook products achieve both the aim of being innovative – they are basically dynamic, multi-platform digital textbooks ( or ebooks ) that “learn” where individual students need reinforcement and adapt the text and revision questions accordingly – and  will be relatively inexpensive at just under $20.00 per “book”.

Of course, digital textbooks are available on a variety of platforms and from most of the major textbook publishers. The advantages are clear. They are cheaper, easier to carry around and usually incorporate interactive features such as videos or social media to make learning tasks more appealing. The SmartBook takes this to a new level by incorporating algorithms that adapt learning content to the student, based on given responses in test and revision units.

The SmartBook will then continue to monitor learner progress, and adjust to student needs as they progress through a course, constantly updating to offer the most appropriate content pathways. A SmartBook also predicts what material the learners are likely to forget over time – and when – and can build in revision sessions accordingly.

There are further benefits to the publisher, using feedback and data analysis to allow McGraw-Hill to build a dialogue with authors, to help refine areas where learners struggle most.

The SmartBook is a nice concept. Not entirely new – back in the nineties there were early attempts at creating offline dynamic learner pathways in response to input, but you had to be sitting at your PC to study (assuming you had a PC back then). But coupling this technology with the web and multi-platform delivery represents a very interesting step forwards – ELT publishers (and providers like Macmillan English Campus and English360) take note. As ever, expect McGraw-Hill’s new baby to take off first in the US – and be over here in Europe sometime in the next five to ten years…

Happy New Year, if it’s not too late…

Byron