Building the Inkling Platform From the Ground Up

Students who use Inkling love Inkling. And that’s by design. But there’s more to Inkling than good looks and nifty features. We’ve built the platform from the ground up to be pedagogically sound, supporting our modern understanding of how people learn, what motivates them, and how to keep them engaged. I’d like to share a bit of the thinking–and research–that went into the first version of Inkling, and that guides us in our continued development of the platform.

Inkling is based on the notion of recyclable software components. We went beyond simply replicating text and images from the textbook and built these interactive software components, called Blueprints, to transform static material into something more responsive and dynamic. Content that was flat is now modular and explorative. In the process, we work to uncover the best possible treatment of the content in order to craft an effective and fluid presentation of concepts.

From design elements that assist with comprehension of difficult concepts (1), to image enhancements that maximize the effectiveness of graphical aids, we have the learner in mind at each step. For example, in our layout, image thumbnails complement the corresponding text as organizational aids, a form of mental scaffolding that helps you organize the information within your existing knowledge of the subject matter (2). In addition, Inkling allows you to navigate easily between sections across a title, which facilitates the formation of cross-content connections that are key to meaningful learning.

We use various approaches to turn static images into interactive experiences. Guided Tours, for example, make complex graphics more accessible by using integrated captions and directed zooming, effectively reducing the physical distance between text and graphics. This, in itself, has been shown to better facilitate the mental integration of the two sources (3). Traditional figure captions, often too lengthy to include in the body of the illustration, can now be divided into manageable pieces and incorporated in a nonintrusive manner. As a result, the content is more likely to be integrated by the student (4). All of our image enhancements are built to optimize existing graphics for the visual learner, and to also appeal to the kinesthetic learner as they actively navigate through the steps of a process, unpinch to zoom in on an image, and toggle to control the depth of detail shown. Inkling, by design, accommodates a wide range of learning styles.

Assessment is about more than just evaluation; it’s a powerful tool when used during the learning process (5). Formative assessment built right into the content allows students to gauge their level of understanding without breaking the continuity of the reading. Students receive instant feedback to guide them through the learning process and to eliminate common misconceptions on the spot. How well did they understand the concept they just studied? Did they struggle with a particular question? If so, they have this valuable information available to them immediately and they can review a difficult concept before moving on. Students are empowered to monitor their own progress and to set the pace of their own learning journey.

Students are used to seeking out media in the form of video or audio to supplement the traditionally text-centered approach of their course books. We believe, as do our publishers, that these valuable learning aids should be integral to the textbook. The burden of contextual integration is lower when everything about a given topic is side-by-side. Students get rich multimedia exactly when they need it, increasing its effectiveness. Students spend more time and energy generating novel ideas and integrating the material, and less time seeking out this media themselves.

If you are a visual learner, we see you.
An auditory learner? We hear you.
A kinesthetic learner? You guessed it, we feel you.

It’s easy to just talk about “more interactivity” or “more digital content,” but we’re about actually doing it. We’ve taken a methodical and evidence-based approach to the design of Inkling. If it’s in there, there’s a good reason. And we think that’s going to benefit everyone. Especially students.

(1) Chandler, P., & Sweller, J. (1991) Cognitive load theory and the format of instruction. Cognition and Instruction, 8, 293-332.
(2) Wittrock, M. C. (1989) Generative processes of comprehension. Educational Psychologist, 24, 345-376.
(3) Moreno, R. & Mayer, R.E. (1999) Cognitive principles of multimedia learning: The role of modality and contiguity. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91, 358-368.
(4) Ginns, P. (2006) Integrating information: A meta-analysis of spatial contiguity and temporal contiguity effects. Learning and Instruction, 16, 511-525.
(5) Boston, Carol (2002) The concept of formative assessment. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 8(9).