Re: Books vs. Internet

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Posted by R. John Howe on March 10, 1999 at 05:36:35:

In Reply to: Books vs. Internet posted by Jerry Silverman on March 09, 1999 at 23:41:47:

Dear folks -

The question of what can be published best in this medium and what can't is one that's being debated heavily.

It is true that one can put a great deal of information on a CD-ROM, reproduce them for a pittance (I know of a firm that will copy them from a master, put labels on them and put them in "jewelry cases" for about 75 cents each if you reproduce 1,000). They are easily distributed and usable by anyone whose computer has a CD drive and whose spec meets the playing requirements. A great deal of the reproduction costs entailed in book publishing can be avoided. And the CD-ROM takes up very little space and some have search features that make them easier to refer to specifically than any book.

But there are some real disadvantages to going on-screen. First, most people still find it more fatiguing to read on-screen than they do with a book. Second, something we've already mentioned in this discussion is that color on screen is even more uncertain yet than color on the printed page [about which we still hear a lot of sorrowing, (e.g., the recent John Wertime and Ralph Kaffel volumes)despite the fact that very good color on the printed page is now possible). Third, there is still something seemingly easier about picking a book off the shelf and browsing it. I followed Steve Price's lead recently and purchased the entire National Geographic oevre from 1896 to 1997 on a number of CD-ROMs and find that I have hardly looked at it yet at all (despite the fact that it's sitting here at my feet). Something about the unfamiliarity, some inflexibilities I found in accessing it, some limitations in the search feature, made it less enjoyable for me. But mostly it wasn't like reading the page in a magazine because of the cramped size of the screen.

I've heard it said that until someone manages to simulate being able to look at a whole page at once and especially page turning, book publishers do not feel especially threatened.

But to go back to advantages and possibilities in this new medium. We are building computer-based instruction and computer-based performance support programs [the latter are programs that employees can use (without trainig) to perform aspects of certain jobs]. We can do things in this medium that are either only done very clumsily with hard copy or that simply can't be done at all. We can for example give direct and varied feedback to a learner with regard to his/her responses in a particular learning frame, we can construct far more elaborately "branched" work task scenarios for learners to practice with in which increasingly strong cues and consequences are experienced as the learner makes wrong choices that take them further and further from correct performance.

We are using color on the basis of research in constructing these computer-based materials and many of the rules for good inter-face design are similarly grounded. "Usebility" studies are an integral part of the building of computer based learning sequences (something the National Geographic CD-ROM could have used a bit more of).

Yes, this medium has tremendous capability. No, I don't think it's quite ready yet to replace a well-written rug book with good color. But it may just be a matter of time.


R. John Howe

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