Thursday, March 21, 2013

Adaptive Learning and Postmodernist Literary Theory?

In April of 2013, McGraw-Hill Higher Education is releasing the first, ever, adaptive digital book: SmartBook.

While many of people may be suspicious and wary of ebooks, and their inevitable future, I am fascinated by an adaptive ebook. I studied English in college, and SmartBook is the logical extension of Post-modern literary theory. Postmodernism...I know, crazy, right? Allow me to explain. 

While I could quote to you some references to some print books that cover critical theory (say…David Richter’s The Critical Tradition 3rd edition), I know that most of you will go where most of us do, to Google, and Wikipedia. Wikipedia doesn’t provide a satisfactory explanation, I feel, but I came across a decent website.

Read it for yourself, but the basic knowledge you need about Post-Modernism is that it rejects the idea of a grand narrative, of any singular definition of “Truth”. Think about it this way: have you ever told a “had to be there joke”? Well, that just proves that a story, in itself, is not, the “whole” story.

When writers began to take into account this basic understanding, storytelling became blurred with the telling of the story. They began to make blatant references to the audience; in film, this is called “breaking the fourth wall”, where the actor/actress talks directly to the audience. In the TV show, LOST, the writers killed off two characters because they were “universally despised” by the Internet fan base.

This represents a loop between creation and consumption. This constant online feedback, called “Web 2.0”, is an extension of Post-Modernism: a blatant disregard for classic conventions of story-telling.  
Anyway, back to McGraw-Hill’s SmartBook. The idea of a book interfacing directly with the audience, and adapting to them, real time, is incredibly Post-Modern. To be realistic, the purpose of reading content in a class is to learn the content, to pass the class, not to be able to spout off quotes (maybe at one time, but not anymore).

Additionally, the SmartBook disregards limiting concepts like “a visual learner.” SmartBook breaks down the idea of a singular text that all students must learn from. Adapting to the audience is an inherently Post-Modern idea, something embraced by TV shows, Movies, and Social Media. Now, it is time for one of the most basic building blocks of human knowledge to follow the trend. 


  1. I agree that the idea of a book interfacing directly with the user is very Post-Modern. However, I am not sure that it is necessarily a good thing

  2. Daniel, I very much like your analogy, but would live to see you refer to examples other than those from the company you work for... Otherwise it might sound like you have a hidden agenda, you know? Keep up the good work!

    1. You make a completely valid point. However, McGraw-Hill is the only publisher, at this point, that I have worked for, directly, so that is why my experience is related to that...But, in my other blogpost (working on more!), I do reference an Elsevier Product, which is pretty good!

      But, you are correct, I definitely need to be more representative.