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July 14, 2011

Make eLearning for the iPad for FREE

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Written by: Eric Matas
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I feel some guilty pleasure when other trainers and elearning developers become jealous of my elearning app for the iPad. Because the Mac iOS doesn’t support Flash, many of my colleagues haven’t been able to take advantage of the best elearning tool ever: the iPad.

My app did not cost that much ($7,000 developed in 2010 and $4000 for upgrades in 2011). Still, even those costs are not readily available to many training teams. So, I will share my first efforts making elearning for the iPad. It still works very well and gets “oohs and ahhs” even though it is simple and FREE.

There are many tools for doing the small bit of work involved, but I will focus on the easiest method I know, using the word processing program on my computer. It’s three steps and then you are elearning:

  1. Make a simple document in Pages.
  2. Export as an epub file.
  3. Put the epub file in iTunes and sync your iPad(s).

Learners can view the elearning module in iBooks, the free app from Apple. The reader app is the key, really. It has interactive functionality built in, so you just need to focus on good content.

Step 1 — Pages. Pages is the word processing program on a Mac. It is simple to use, like Word. Simply add text, images and video. Formatting must be simple so the epub file can adapt to various sizes when viewed. Still the content can look great, and with multi-media, it reads more like a digital magazine than a book. It helps to make a visual cover page (your page 1) that looks like a book cover. Play around with headers and styles — because these will help the learner navigate.

Step 2 — Epub. In Pages, just click Share > Export and choose the epub option. Check the box that makes your first page the cover art. You will have an epub file in seconds. If you get errors, it is probably related to formatting that epub files don’t support. It is best to keep the formatting simple — let iBooks do the work of making your module look great.

Step 3 — iTunes. On a Mac, just drag the epub file you just saved onto iTunes and then sync your iPad. Like Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.

In iBooks, your module will have an interactive table of contents — created from your headers and styles. The table of contents works as nicely as a menu in a Flash elearning course. Learners can change fonts or font size to their liking, read portrait or landscape, and bookmark and annotate the module. The video content plays right on the page or can be expanded to full screen.

I’ve had success with small, three-page mini-books. That’s three pages in the word processor — once in iBooks, the page numbers vary for each learner depending on  their font choices and orientation they prefer for their iPad. Learners found the content engaging and appealing, and as elearning it was refreshing to have a mini-book instead of the typical rapid elearning thriller. I’ve also made longer modules, around 10-11 pages. They were well-received, but I made ample use of white space, and I wouldn’t recommend pushing much more than that. I don’t have data on it, but the iBooks format seems to suit concise elearning efforts. If readers can page through within 15-20 minutes, they seem pleased. If you have more content, make a separate epub module and call it a sequel.

Author: Eric Matas

Eric is the Managing Editor of eLW Mag. He works as an elearning specialist focused on iPad apps and media strategy. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and their five children.

About the Author

Eric Matas
Eric is the Managing Editor of eLW Mag. He works as an elearning specialist focused on iPad apps and media strategy. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and their five children.


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  1. Kim Williams

    Thanks Eric, this is interesting stuff and a concept I hadn’t thought of. Just a query though, how would this method be more beneficial than just creating a PDF and loading it? Is it the embedded video issue? Cheers and thanks for the good work.

    • Thanks Kim – PDFs can look great, too: you can put formatting to use — columns, newsletter templates, and that HD look. How are learners viewing the PDFs? Do you have a cool viewer?

      Embedded videos work great in the epub modules. I think the iBooks app gives the module (or mini-book) some added ethos, especially if your book appears on the learner’s iBooks shelf with other books they like.

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  5. Natalia

    Thanks, Eric. I’ll definitely try to create a simple learning chunk following your tips. Would you mind sharing more details regards your learning app? Does it make Flash content play on iPad by any chance? Thank you in advance. Natalia

    • Hi Natalia — I’ve tried a few tricks to get Flash to play on the iPad, but they are all just hacks with various quirks.

      My app doesn’t need Flash. I use the authoring tool to add the text, image, video, narration, etc. and organize and sequence the material, just like I would using a Flash style tool (e.g. Captivate). I have to dabble in a little html code from time to time, but that is mostly just cutting and pasting.

      When I publish, I don’t even need to mess with any zip folders and rigamarole. The tool creates a unique URL and learners can install the course from their iPad, anywhere in the world — where there is an internet connection!

      If you want to know more, send me an email — elearn@ericmatas.com

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