Even staunch defenders of the traditional book are starting to see the merits of the e-ink reader: Pew Research estimates that 32 percent of American adults own one. And while they might seem overly simplistic, e-readers definitely have their place on the nightstand and perhaps even in eLearning applications.

Before dismissing the e-ink reader as too basic for your multimedia modules, remember that readers love choice. Offering the ability to access material on a second screen might be super-economical and result in some very happy learners.

Double the Fun

Chances are that you watch TV with a smartphone or tablet in-hand; Nielsen estimates that a whopping 84 percent of smartphone and tablet users surf, buy, and socialize while in front of the TV. It’s a phenomenon called “second screen usage,” which is essentially the propensity to use more than one screened device at a time.

And why not? With a tablet in hand, you could shop products, tweet about plot twists, and use IMDB to figure out where you’ve seen that guy playing a corpse on CSI before. Using a second screen satisfies a natural human hunger for in-the-moment knowledge and something to do during commercial breaks.

Now, contrast that behavior to someone using a tablet, laptop, or smartphone to access a learning module. As part of the module, the learner should read a study or page through a manual. While it could be done on an LCD screen, reading on a screen not really meant for that can be tiring and frustrating, particularly if there’s a lot of material to go through.

Adding the ability to access manuals, policies, studies, and other text-heavy documents via e-reader means using a second screen to give your learner more choices. It also means extending your reach, since e-readers are far more appropriate for outdoor and even bedtime reading, whereas a smartphone might be abandoned during those times.

Hey, it’s not perfect: e-readers can be simplistic and don’t work well for anything but, well, reading. Still, they might have a place within your strategy if you think beyond the screen.

When E-Readers Work:

  • When a document is text-heavy.
  • When you need supporting material to a lighter module.
  • When training materials require a large amount of screen time.
  • When downloading a text-heavy file would require buffering and bandwidth on smartphones.

When E-Readers Don’t Work:

  • As a primary screen (they should only ever be used as second or supporting device).
  • When a module relies on graphics and media to engage users.
  • When a learning module requires a high degree of interaction (e-readers may have touch screen capacity, but are nowhere near as sophisticated as tablets and smartphones).
  • When learning must be adaptable to the user.

On the bright side, producing an e-reader version of a case study or manual is extremely low-cost, so it’s not a big deal to add the capacity for a low tech screen to your existing learning materials. Just keep in mind that e-readers are ideal as second screens, but aren’t stellar for standalone learning strategy.

As it turns out, the argument for e-readers and eLearning applications may not be as black and white as it seems.