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Cengage Learning Introduces New ‘MindTap’ Personal Learning Experience
Posted On March 14, 2011
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MindTap is a new personalized program of digital products and services that engages students with interactivity while also offering students and instructors choice in content, platform, devices, and learning tools. Cengage Learning, a provider of learning and research solutions for the academic, professional, and library markets, introduced the new service at the recent TED conference, which showcases the best in technology and “ideas worth spreading.” Cengage claims MindTap goes beyond ebooks, digital supplements, course delivery platforms, or learning management systems (LMS)—it is the first in a new category Cengage calls Personal Learning Experiences (PLEs).

The customizable, cloud-based system is a web portal students log into to navigate via a dashboard. MindTap assembles all of students’ course materials in one spot for easy access—their etextbook, homework solutions, quizzes, multimedia content, assets from Gale’s research tools and library databases, and more. And, it is device agnostic—it can be accessed from their desktops, laptops, tablets, or mobile phones. It also works with any LMS, such as Blackboard.

Instructors can track students’ use, activities, and comprehension in real-time, which provides opportunities for early intervention. Grades are visible and archived so students and instructors always have access to current standings in the class. Instructors can also customize the curriculum —with modifiable learning paths, their own content elements, configurable assignment activities, and MindTap apps to drive other activities.

William Rieders, executive vice president of New Media for Cengage Learning says, “Many ebook and other technology platforms currently exist, but none of them have addressed the main needs of students and professors holistically. Digital platforms, until now, have simply recreated the experience of the print textbook in a digital format, leaving students dissatisfied and instructors limited in their ability to teach. MindTap takes classroom engagement to an entirely new level. It is an optimal blend of sound pedagogy, authoritative content, and advanced technology.”

At the core of MindTap is MindTap Reader, which is a new interactive browser-based platform that adds significant reading and learning functionality embedded within the context of text and other elements including video/audio, annotations, activities, applications, and instructor source materials.

Rieders says that MindTap is more than convenient bundles of content and software—it’s a flexible and extensible delivery platform, allowing instructors and students to incorporate open content in the context of the overall syllabus. Through its newly announced MindApps partner program, MindTap distributes content and technology assets from a number of providers, including commercial partners, institution and instructor sourced applications, and open community software and content sources. Some of its current offerings are Google Docs MindApp, NetTutor MindApp, Kaltura MindApp, and ConnectYard MindApp. For example, the NetTutor MindApp offers live online tutoring 7 days a week. Students may submit offline questions or papers 24 hours a day. Tutorial archives are also available 24/7. The Kaltura MindApp allows teachers and students to integrate rich media in the learning experience. It provides simple video and audio uploading and recording tools. (Note: The MindApps partner program is not affiliated in any way with a company called MindApps llc.)

Industry veteran Michael Cairns (Information Media Partners, Bowker, Wolters Kluwer Health) blogged with his assessment. “What might be unique to the MindTap platform is the (radical) idea that external (to the publisher) developers could build applications that use the content in different ways. Publishers with more advanced experience in electronic publishing particularly in professional publishing have provided APIs to third party developers in numerous examples but this may be the first example in educational publishing where a large established company has taken this step. Readers here will recall that Elsevier recently launched SciVerse which allows for the same type of collaboration from their user community as the MindTap product presumably intends to do….What will be interesting is how the other publishers react—as I am confident they have their own platforms in development—and how the product will be accepted in the schools and by students. To date, students have been lukewarm about content delivered electronically.”

Indeed, several recent surveys have shown that college students still prefer print over digital textbooks. But maybe that’s because the e-textbooks haven’t provided a significantly better experience and value over print in the minds of students—a point made by McGraw Hill’s Vineet Madan, among others.

Cengage and McGraw Hill have been partners in a venture called CourseSmart begun in 2007—along with Pearson, Bedford, Freeman & Worth Publishing Group (Macmillan), and John Wiley & Sons. CourseSmart sells digital replicas of e-textbooks and now has a catalog of more than 15,000. (Cengage Learning’s brands include Brooks/Cole, Course Technology, Delmar, Gale, Heinle, South-Western, and Wadsworth, and others.) I asked Rieders whether Cengage would continue to participate in CourseSmart. He replied, “Yes, we will continue to offer ebooks through our traditional points of sale, including CourseSmart and CengageBrain.”

Rieders stressed that MindTap was about evolving the company’s offerings to another level.

MindTap provides the content, services, and applications to power new products and to improve our existing products. As such, MindTap Reader is an enhanced delivery platform intended to power a variety of other branded products over time. MindTap Reader is not intended to be a product in-and-of itself that would displace products such as today’s branded Cengage Course solutions.

MindTap builds on the success of Cengage’s Course products and services. A recent efficacy study on CourseMate showed 94% of students were very satisfied with CourseMate, 14% fewer students received a failing grade, 11% submitted more homework, and 9% saw an increase in their GPA. MindTap builds on [the] effectiveness of Cengage’s other digital programs by adding more functionality and scalability.

Currently, several institutions are piloting MindTap. More than 20 titles across many disciplines are available for use in fall courses to members of the Early Adopter Program, a selective program available to qualified institutions. In addition, MindTap Reader will be rolled out as a free upgrade to customers beginning this fall.

I talked with an instructor of business at a rural community college in Michigan who had tested several chapters in the Principles of Macroeconomics text from MindTap with his students for 3 weeks. Participating in the trial itself was a great learning experience for the business students—to have the opportunity to be involved in a pilot project, test the software, see surveys, etc. Both he and the students were excited at the potential of MindTap and welcomed the suite of functionality. At this point, the pilot brings the various components together (Aplia software, video, text, quizzes, etc.) but he was told that the promised product for the fall will offer tighter integration among the components and functions and will add a collaboration component. He is also waiting to hear about the cost.

With MindTap, Cengage is clearly making its move beyond digital replicas of print texts to the next level of interactive learning and engagement. It is all about providing the best tools possible to foster better learning outcomes.

Cengage isn’t the only company pushing into this new territory. The Wall Street Journal reports that McGraw-Hill Co. has signed a deal with interactive textbook startup Inkling, which offers an Apple iPad tablet app, to add more textbook titles, and Pearson PLC is in advanced talks with Inkling to do the same.

Links to Video Demos


Title: Principles of Microeconomics, 6e

Author: Greg Mankiw

Title: Principles of Macroeconomics, 6e

Author: Greg Mankiw

Humanities & Social Sciences:

Title: Becoming a Master Student, 13e

Author:  Dave Ellis

Title: What is Psychology?, 3e

Author: Ellen Pastorino

Math & Science:

Title: Nutrition - Concepts and Controversies, 12e

Author: Frances Sizer

Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.

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