Recent reports suggest that digital books aren’t gaining popularity as quickly as initially predicted, particularly in higher education. However, in the corporate training space, interactive digital content has been celebrated as an innovator, and creators and distributors of that content have reaped the rewards of that innovation in the form of funding.
Last year, XanEdu Publishing, Inc., which customizes content for the K-12, university and corporate markets, closed a funding round of $8.1 million. Inkling, which builds mobile-first documents for corporations, raised over $74 million in venture funding starting with its Series A round in 2010 and including multi-million dollar investments from large educational content companies like McGraw-Hill and Person.
As Forbes reports, when Inkling was founded in 2009, its main prospects were traditional textbook publishers. However, companies including Starbucks began using “InkDocs” to replace traditional paper training manuals, curricula, process guides and other communications. Now, many companies, including Accenture, Gap, Medtronic Princess Cruises and McDonald’s, have followed suit. Medtronic reportedly cut at least $430,000 per year in paper and shipping costs and cut the time for new reps to become productive by using Inkling technology. Meanwhile, McDonald’s is in the process of transforming all of its process guides and manuals into digital content that will be accessible through Inkling.
Earlier this year, Inkling launched Inkling for Enterprise, which the company described in a press release as “a new way for businesses to reach both internal and external audiences with dynamic, engaging content on mobile devices and PCs.” Its InkDocs can be embedded into LMSs, and companies like Medtronic and McDonald’s use the technology, according to Inkling, “to improve employee retention and performance, drive customer satisfaction, generate revenue, and engage customers in new ways by embracing the long-overdue shift to mobile in the enterprise.”
Research conducted by Training Industry, Inc. and VitalSource in 2014 found that 60 percent of organizations use digital platforms in training delivery, especially to distribute policy, benefits and procedural manuals. Organizations cited benefits of digital e-reader platforms such as access, reduced cost, ease of use and improved consistency/version control. College students cited similar benefits in a recent survey regarding the use of digital textbooks in higher education. However, in the same survey, only 27 percent of college students preferred e-books over print textbooks.
Why the discrepancy between corporate training and higher education?
In an email, Nolan Myers, vice president of client solutions at Inkling, points to three reasons. First, “employees want better access to information.” They are accustomed to using Google to find quick answers as consumers and expect the same easy information access at work. Their employers, therefore, “increasingly see modern training and reference materials as competitive differentiators and critical ways to boost their workforce’s productivity.”
Second, while they are looking to differentiate themselves in this way, Nolan says that “companies have persistent challenges disseminating materials and keeping them up to date.” McDonald’s CLO Rob Lauber, for example, says converting process guides and manuals into a digital format “was a pretty easy business case,” because it would cut costs and enable learning.
Finally, Myers says that companies are adopting digital content because “tools like Inkling make it possible to deploy a solution quickly.” Companies that provide digital content make it easier for employees to access information – especially if the content is mobile-friendly. Digital content like job aides and reference material with embedded videos, interactive flashcards and assessments “provide a richer experience” once employees have accessed the information.
Additionally, trainers can more easily update digital content than print content, meaning “an innovative manager can bring in existing material, modernize its design and add interactivity, and deploy it to the field within weeks.” In departments like sales, this speed can make all the difference.
William Chesser, vice president of business development and global markets at VitalSource, agrees, adding his company has seen a dramatic change in the past 24 months.
“Companies with broadly dispersed workforces understand that e-content distribution is not only cheaper than mailing print around the world, but the content can be kept up to date, and the company can even track who has what version and who has looked at what,” he said. “Companies see cost and learning benefits, and that’s obviously a home run for any business.”
VitalSource is working to add “layers of interactivity” to every content piece, no matter what format it’s in, Chesser explained. This interactivity means companies can receive actionable feedback, which is crucial to managing the training function.
While Myers points out that higher education is adopting digital content as well, that field will naturally “take a bit longer” to do so. Academic content and distribution channels are more complex, and curricular requirements vary across institutions and instructors, further complicating digital content adoption.
With its increasing levels of venture funding and expansion into the corporate training market, Inkling is betting on the industry’s faster adoption of digital content. So far, with an estimated subscription revenue of “tens of millions of dollars,” that bet seems to be paying off.