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PeBL Gets Marine Corps Test Drive at Fort Sill

February 11, 2020

Digitized textbooks have been around for over 20 years. They gained prominence after 1998, when the first dedicated eBook readers were introduced and the first eBook ISBN was assigned. In classrooms and worksites worldwide, eBooks have become a popular medium for both instructor-led and self-paced learning. And like any learning technology, the state of the art continues to advance.

Enter PeBL, or Personalized eBooks for Learning. PeBL uses data science and information technology to give eBooks new functionality far beyond the simple digitization of book content. PeBL turns eBooks into customizable, interactive, cross-platform learning tools that can be linked to robust learning management systems (LMS) within a data intensive learning ecosystem. PeBL is a project of the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative, designed to enhance military readiness with improved approaches to learning and training.

PeBL eBook interactive content

PeBL integrates interactive content and other enhanced functionality into eBooks

In November 2019, under a partnership with Marine Corps Detachment Fort Sill (MARDET Ft Sill) in Oklahoma, the PeBL project entered a research-to-practice transition phase. Thirty MARDET Ft Sill staff and faculty were provided copies of the “Making Good Instructors Great” eBook as part of an experiment to test the usability and effectiveness of the PeBL application. Half of the participants were given a PeBL-enhanced version while the other half served as a control group using a non-enhanced pdf-format version. The control group had access to external discussion forums, while the PeBL users could access embedded individual and team discussions, external resources, and other PeBL functionality.

Administrator explaining PeBL trial to Marines

An administrator explains the schedule for the weeklong PeBL trial to Marines at Fort Sill.

In all categories, the PeBL-based experimental group outperformed the control group. Compared to the control group, the experimental group spent more than double the time accessing the eBook and using the PeBL-enriched features (links to additional resources, progress questions, etc.), and had more than triple the number of team/class interactions (discussions, shared annotations, etc.).

Marines looking at PeBL eBook

Marines checking out the PeBL eBook.

All study participants were asked to complete a post-survey to rate their experiences with the technology and their preferences for using PeBL in the future. The results showed that more PeBL users than control-group users believed it was easier to learn and to complete tasks using the eBooks. The PeBL group also responded more favorably when asked if their eBooks enhanced their learning experience and promoted team building. As both learners and instructors, more PeBL users responded favorably to the technology’s use as a learning tool.

Although the study’s sample size was small, the MARDET Fort Sill trial provided strong justification for PeBL’s broader use from a usability and instructor perspective. From an efficacy perspective the study was inconclusive due to the sample size. The ADL Initiative PeBL team was encouraged by the findings and believes there is evidence to support future studies that expand the sample size and incorporate other lessons-learned for measuring learning efficacy.

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