Personalizing Learning through Digital Reading Platforms

Strategies for promoting engagement through technology
By: | Issue: October, 2018 | Web Seminar Digest
September 17, 2018

Digital reading platforms can enable more personalized learning by providing engaging, interactive and customizable digital content to both students and educators in all subject areas, as well as supplemental curriculum materials, professional development resources, ELL and special education titles, and more.

In this web seminar, presenters discussed ways to use digital reading platforms effectively. Highlights included how to select and implement a platform, how to create a comprehensive digital content strategy, how to promote reading engagement using data on e-book and audiobook use, and how to build your collection based on what your students need and want.


Kay Benning

Director of Library Services

Elmbrook Schools (Wis.)

Edwin Tucker

Account Manager

OverDrive Education

Kay Benning: Newbery-winning children’s author Kate DiCamillo points out how reading builds capacious hearts, or hearts that are large, and it is the way we build a more empathetic and knowledgeable citizenry and change the world. This is why we work hard to uncover effective strategies to better meet the learning needs of our students.

We took a close look at our learners five years back and saw that we had very compliant students, but it was clear there were opportunities for improvement in the area of engagement. So in 2013 we implemented the Readers and Writers Workshop developed by Columbia Teachers College.

Twenty trailblazing educators ranging from second grade to AP English took on a challenge of rethinking their instructional delivery models. Then we continued to scale up personalized learning, and we put in an all-call for personalized learning action plans.

We selected about 35 additional teachers who represented 80 different classroom sections. These teachers were interested in transforming instructional practices, and they were supported by Canvas learning management systems and Chromebooks for students in their classes.

As we scaled out to all 400 classrooms, we implemented OverDrive districtwide in 2015-16. We continue to build, and we are now 1-to-1 in grades 2 through 12. Our OverDrive resources are now a part of both our reading and social studies curricula in grades K through 8.

Two keys to our successful integration of OverDrive were the scaling strategy and implementing the service because it supported our goal to personalize our learning and increase student engagement.

An inventory consultant shared with us that inventory is most effectively and efficiently deployed centrally, and having OverDrive allows us to service the same number of patrons with a significantly smaller inventory investment.

Along with our other personalized learning strategies, our OverDrive collection continues to grow as we work to meet the needs of our learners in a timely and cost-effective manner. Reading spurs reading. Our print circulation saw a year-over-year increase of 24 percent districtwide, while our OverDrive increased 48 percent.

Edwin Tucker: Students overwhelmingly agree on the vitally important role technology plays in their education, and a recent PBS teacher survey clearly demonstrates the consensus among educators that the use of tablets in the classroom both facilitates and enhances learning. So it’s somewhat startling to learn that only 25 percent of school districts have fully implemented a digital strategy, especially when it’s so easy to introduce students to technology through digital reading.

With e-books, students begin a lifelong relationship with technology and digital learning using devices they are already familiar with, all while developing a necessary skill. Our new app for education, Sora, provides an excellent and easy gateway to digital content. The curriculum aspect is what’s front and center. Students get assignments, and then it’s easy to access an e-title or audiobook.

The Explore tab shows everything in the collection. The titles would be curated by the school to appeal to different student groups. Let’s say I’m an eighth-grade student looking for some popular pleasure reading, and I’ve located my title, The Book Thief. With one tap, I can borrow this title, and then immediately I am ready to read.

Let’s say I came across the word “distraught” and wasn’t clear on the meaning. I select the word, and I can get it defined immediately, plus get some synonyms and then some links for exploring further. By the same token, I can take notes and highlight the text. And it’s all very intuitive.

From the Home tab, you’ll find some reading data. We thought data points would be fun for students to track their progress, but inevitably this data is important for the district when it comes to tracking its individual schools and, of course, for teachers tracking individual student progress. This data-driven approach underlies everything we do at OverDrive Education, and the benefit to schools is less time spent observing and gathering data, and more time spent instructing.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please visit

Interested in edtech? Keep up with DA's Future of Education Technology Conference®.