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Kno it all

Submitted by Tom Peters on January 5, 2011 - 10:11am

There are four occasions for reading:  school, work, avocational reading, and incidental reading.  Nearly all of the reading we do for school and work is assigned reading.  Someone else tells us what to read.  Incidental reading occurs when you read in the context of doing something else.  Two examples:  reading road signs as you drive, and reading the cereal box as you munch in the morning.  Avocational reading, also called reading for pleasure or leisure reading, is volitional reading.  We freely choose to read, and we choose what, how, and where to read.

Portable ereading on dedicated reading devices, tablet computers, netbooks, phones, and other portable gadgets really took off 2010 here in the U.S.  The biggest gains, it seems to me, have been in the area of avocational reading, fueled by the Kindle, the Nook, the iPad, and all the other portable ereading devices.  Work-related portable ereading probably will come along soon, perhaps driven more by employer mandates than by employee volition.  Incidental ereading is coming along too, with e-ink displays on billboards, for instance.

The final frontier for portable ereading, I sense, will be school-related reading, particularly at the high school and college levels.  That seems surprising on the face of it, because students do lots of reading, because lugging around tons of printed textbooks is bad for the back, the pocketbook, and the environment, and because textbook designers seem to have been in some sort of dogmatic slumber for several decades.  School-related reading seems ripe for revolution. 

The challenge is that school-related reading is often different in some fundamental ways from the other three types of reading.  Students often want or need to have multiple texts open at once.  They want to highlight and take notes with ease and speed, then share these value-adding activities across multiple platforms.  They often are working on papers or presentations as they read.  They work under tight timelines and, gasp, have been known to procrastinate.  Reading often is done as part of a group process, and often is tied to some sort of formal assessment, such as problem solving, quizzes, presentations, papers, and tests.  While these reading-related activities occur also during the other three types of reading, they are most intense and involved during formal education. 

Rumbles of the coming revolution already are evident.  Later in January, when the New Media Consortium releases the Horizon Report, ebooks will be one of two near-term trends that higher education should be watching and exploring (http://horizon.wiki.nmc.org/2011+Electronic+Books).   The other near-term trend will be mobile learning.

The School of Professional Studies at Trine University in Indiana recently announced that beginning this there will be a mandate to use e-textbooks for all courses (http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/trine-u-school-requires-e-textbooks-for-entire-curriculum).  The school has about 500 students.  They will be using the CafeScribe system (http://www.cafescribe.com/), operated by Follett Higher Education Group. 

Later in January, when the New Media Consortium releases the 2011 Horizon Report, ebooks will be one of two near-term trends that higher education should be exploring and implementing (http://horizon.wiki.nmc.org/2011+Electronic+Books).   The other near-term trend will be mobile learning. 
Late last month a start-up company named Kno, Inc., (http://www.kno.com/) based in Santa Clara, California, announced that it had begun shipping its portable higher elearning devices to individuals who had placed pre-orders.  Kno currently offers two models, which come with one or two 14.1 inch screens.  The current prices are $599 for the single screen model, and $899 for the dual screen. 

At least a few investors are interested in becoming Kno It Alls.  The Wall Street Journal has reported (http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2010/12/20/kno-thinks-its-tablet-is-the-answer-for-students/) that Kno, Inc., which has been in existence since May 2009, has raised approximately $55 million in “equity and debt.” 

Because the single screen device is higher priced and heavier than the Apple iPad, some pundits are predicting that the Kno is DOA.  It will be interesting to see if a start-up company that is focused on a particular type of ereading can manage to create a niche market.