ApliaText Highlights


Intuitive interface enables students to quickly highlight key passages. Highlights are aggregated for review.

Flash Required

Problem » Strategy

While doing research on Aplia Text, we realized that highlighting in a physical textbook is intuitive, extremely common and very useful. We realized that highlighting in most eBooks is not intuitive or useful and, thus, not common.


We looked at most other eBook platforms. Usually, either entire blocks of text are highlighted via a toggle (i/e highlight the entire paragraph or sentence), or require a significant number of clicks and decisions to turn on the highlight tool. Instead, we wanted something that was extremely granular and fast.

I realized that simply selecting text was an implicit statement by the user that they found that text important. So, rather than asking them to highlight that entire paragraph or activate certain highlighting tools, we could simply offer them the option to highlight whenever they selected text. Inspired by radial menus, I designed a simple interface that popups a button a few pixels to the right of the mouse whenever the user highlights text.

Once we had done some initial user testing on my mockups, I created a proof of concept using javascript. An initial concern from our QA team and engineers was that we wouldn't be able to build something like this that was cross-browser compatible. My proof of concept laid those fears to rest.

We also realized that we could improve highlights in physical books by aggregating all the student's highlights into one place. We decided to aggregate them all into the end of chapter material at the end of each chapter. Within the end of chapter page, we simply list all of the highlights from that chapter along with links back to the page. We also have a link to a page where we list all the paragraphs that contain highlights in order to help students review.


Usage for highlights in Aplia Text is well beyond our wildest hopes. We see 100x more usage of highlights than any other eBook we have usage data for, well beyond what we had hoped for. In our ongoing surveys and research with students, highlights rank near the top of favorite features throughout all of Aplia. We're currently working on ways to leverage our highlight tool in a variety of ways.