The Technical Making of eLearning Interactivity

These days, it’s never been easier to create engaging digital content. Interactive widgets, or small web applications that execute specific functions within your content, come in all shapes and sizes and, with just a few clicks, can transform your legacy assets. Static pictures become flash cards or slideshows, a detailed image transforms into click-and-show poptips, and critical information can be modified into a test question. In Inkling Habitat, our cloud-based authoring tool, the drag-and-drop widget collection means that users don’t need a technical background or a developer on-hand to deploy these functions. Still, it can be helpful to look under the hood and see the process behind creating a widget, and where to start when you have an idea of your own.

In this post, we’ll give you an inside look at the technical making of widgets to get a better sense of what’s possible, as well as the technical tools (or lack thereof) that you’d need to create a widget of your own.

1. Start with an idea

While you work through a piece of content, explore ways that your content, and the user experience, can be enhanced by custom interactivity. Ask questions such as:

  • “What do we want users to take away from the content?”
  • “How does interactivity enhance their experience?”
  • “What can we do to ensure that the widget is easy-to-use and still effective?”

As you begin to answer these questions (and more like them), think about the context of where your widget will live: flashcards could fill their own page, whereas a multiple-choice quiz may be most effective when preceded by a short scenario.  Explore different features and interactions that your widget may incorporate based on each use-case.

To learn more about creating interactive content that will work beautifully on multiple devices, read our 5 must-ask questions before starting a content project. 

2. Consider your users’ devices

Just like a website, users will open your content on a host of digital devices and, just like web browsers, these devices and ePub readers may have unique or limited support for specific ePub standards. Using analytics and reports about your user preferences, devices, and readers, you can think critically about the functionality of your widgets. Some readers may not work offline, while others may render widgets differently. Because of this varied support, it is important to determine where your most active users will be viewing your content and build widgets accordingly.

3. Bring your widget to digital life

Now, it’s time to flesh out the more specific technical challenges of building your widget. Check out different coding libraries and APIs that you may be able to utilize in your widget. Often times, you can use open source code libraries to help balance complicated widget functions–connecting to social networks, building a slideshow with robust features, and communicating between widgets are all great examples of the power of libraries. These libraries can help you streamline widget development and introduce previously unavailable interactions and features.

Since you may use multiple instances of a widget in your project, think about ways each one may be customized. In Inkling Habitat, for example, we allow our users to edit widgets through a custom authoring interface, creating unique widgets that are specific to each piece of content. With a slideshow, for example, you might to be able to include optional titles and captions, the ability to turn auto play on/off, or add interesting slide transitions, such as a cross-fade.

4. Test your widget

When you’re ready to launch your brand-new widget, make sure to test the widget across different readers, devices, browsers, operating systems, and screen sizes. While there is an ePub standard for widgets, many devices, readers, and browsers offer differing support for these standards. For instance, widgets are generally instantiated with a iframe when viewed in a reader, but not all readers support iframes that reference external web services. This means that you’ll need to package up your widget files with the ePub, rather than allow them to live on a separate server. Build out an ePub package that includes your widget and import it into Readium, iBooks, and Kindle (to name a few)–each of these offers different reading experiences and a variety of widget support.

Finally, seek out feedback from your users, and if possible, implement design or feature updates based on their pain points or recommendations. While you’ve built an awesome new piece of interactivity, your users will help inform future versions or entirely new widgets.

The bottom line: 

There’s a lot of thought, engineering, testing, and re-designing behind successful widgets, but that’s not to say that only tech-savvy people should be part of the process. Instead, content creators should take ownership over their widgets by understanding the process as best they can, and jump in when possible. Everyone in the content creation chain can contribute an idea and create a more engaging, unique reading experience.

To learn more about the widgets that you can create in Inkling Habitat, request a free demo from our sales team.