How to create an interactive PDF: A simple guide
Want to boost student engagement? Elevate your course material with a PDF or interactive online workbook. Here’s how to create one to enhance your learners’ experience.
Are you genuinely engaging the students of your online courses? Many businesses, schools, and organizations use interactive PDFs to elevate the student experience and enhance their learning.
A PDF is a digital file that retains all the source files’ formatting and layout. A PDF document can be sent to anyone via email or chat, or uploaded online to be downloaded to the recipient’s computer. In the past, static PDFs were used to share read-only documents. Today, while office tech has come a long way, PDFs are still stuck in the stone ages. While PDFs can be made fillable, they’re usually slow, require using third-party programs, and aren’t that pleasing to look at (unless designed using software like Adobe InDesign or Canva).
Interactive PDFs can be used to replace physical print-outs of online course workbooks and handouts. And while they elevate the student’s online learning experience by providing a more hands-on way to practice and understand course content, there’s still a way to go to truly elevate the learner’s experience.
In this article, we’ll cover how to make and use interactive PDFs, and introduce digital workbooks—a revolutionary alternative to these archaic methods to quickly and easily enhance your course materials:
- What is an interactive PDF file?
- How to use interactive PDFs for your online course
- 3 ways to make PDF files for student workbooks
- How do you make an interactive PDF for free?
- How do you create an interactive PDF with hyperlinks?
- How do you create an animated PDF?
- Other features and content your interactive PDF can have
- Benefits of creating an interactive PDF with Wobo
Interactive PDF file vs. traditional PDF
An interactive PDF contains elements the reader can view or interact with. It often includes things like links and fillable forms.
According to Demand Gen Report, interactive content is two times more engaging than static content, quickly replacing legacy, static PDFs. Here are some places you may have already been using interactive PDFs in your everyday life:
- Online PDF application forms with fillable fields to enter your information
- Digital magazines, brochures, and E-books with embedded hyperlinks
A traditional PDF is meant to be a static, view-only document. It’s great when you don’t need users to do anything other than view or read the document. But they can’t be easily updated without sending or uploading a revised copy to users.
Whether you create an interactive or static PDF file, your learners need a PDF reader like Adobe Reader to view the file. And while interactive PDFs may sound cool, they’re hard to use on a mobile device, not that great to look at, and not as dynamic as interactive workbooks.
What is an interactive workbook?
An interactive workbook is replacing PDF worksheets. It’s a digital workbook where students can write notes, do reflections, take quizzes, and where students can keep their work safe on the Cloud (no more “my dog ate it” excuses). As an instructor, you can view a student's work in real-time to provide valuable feedback. Students can download their work into a PDF to save it for future reference after the course is done.
Unlike a PDF, you don’t need any special software to view or interact with the content when your workbooks are created with Wobo. You just embed the workbook into your existing course player experience.
Interactive workbooks vs PDFs
PDFs have been used for years to distribute content that the recipient can’t alter or change. For example, you can send your learners a PDF file of a worksheet, and they can’t accidentally change the layout or branding. Your recipient could view the document online or print a hard copy.
With today’s technology, PDFs are more interactive than before, but still don’t meet the detailed interactivity provided by digital and interactive workbooks. With PDFs, the interactivity is limited to clicking links and filling in form fields. With interactive workbooks (like ones created with Wobo), you can include all the engaging elements you want, including:
- Sliders, drop-down lists, and radio buttons
- Customizable tables
- Navigation that’s designed for the web
- A much simpler workflow for updating workbook content
How to use interactive PDFs for your online course
When designing an online course, your challenge will be to keep students engaged so they take an active role in their learning and better understand the concepts you’re teaching. Using an interactive PDF helps keep students more engaged online.
Here are the steps to add an interactive PDF to your online course:
- Pick an interactive PDF designer like Adobe InDesign, Acrobat, or Canva.
- Use pre-built templates or customize the PDF to your branding. Include interactive elements according to the software’s specifications.
- Secure the document using watermarks.
- Add a link to download your PDF on your online course platform (or email a link to your students).
Students can then view the interactive PDF to see the rich media or fill in text fields. That can save their answers to their local drive at any time or it can be submitted to their instructor or peers for feedback.
How interactive workbooks enrich student learning
The interactive features and rich media content in interactive workbooks help better engage students during their learning. Most students will learn better by being hands-on in their education. This could mean applying learned theories and concepts through real-world applications and projects or writing down their learnings in a journal or workbook in a fun, memorable way. Doing more than just sitting and listening can boost learning comprehension.
When you provide an interactive workbook with an online course, you give your students a place to make connections and increase their understanding of your course material. It’s also a great way to stand out from competitors who don’t offer interactive content. It makes your brand more memorable.
Learn more about how you can better engage your students with digital workbooks: How to make online classes more interactive
How to make interactive PDF files for students
To create an interactive PDF, you’ll need to take two steps as follows:
Step 1: Use a design software (Word, Canva, InDesign)
Beginners may find it easiest to use Microsoft Word (or a similar word processing program) to create their files. When you have designed your file in Word, save it as a PDF document.
Word's design and graphic capabilities are limited (compared to other, more advanced software) and once the PDF is created, it’s no longer editable without creating a new version and redistributing it. This process works when you only need a few type-able fields and links. It’s not ideal if you want interactive elements like videos and rich media or the ability to view the file on any computer or device without special software.
You can also use the free online graphic design software called Canva to design your PDFs. They have many flexible templates that you can add your branding to. Once you’ve created your designs, you can export the content as a PDF file.
If you have more advanced design skills, Adobe InDesign will allow you to create more advanced layouts and branding. Create your PDF in InDesign, then create an interactive PDF from the file. This will save any links you’ve added to the content, but you’ll still need to add fillable text fields using Adobe Acrobat.
While Adobe InDesign works great, the learning curve can be steep, and you need to create all your templates from scratch. You’re still missing out on adding the interactivity (like sliders and clickable buttons) students crave to better engage with your learning content.
Step 2: Add hyperlinks
If you want to add clickable hyperlinks to your PDF, the process may vary depending on the software you’re using and how you’re exporting your PDF document. You’ll usually add the hyperlink in the text directly (usually through your “Insert” menu).
Then when you actually create your PDF, open up any “Save As” settings and ensure any settings referring to “Interactive” elements and hyperlinks are turned on. We always suggest testing the links in the PDF after export, to ensure they’re clickable and the links are correct.
Step 3: Make it fillable (Adobe)
Once you have your PDF file, you can distribute that to your students. If you want to add interactive elements like fillable form fields, you’ll need to use a program like Adobe to add these. You can also add additional links and buttons, so they are clickable.
The best alternative to PDF files: Wobo interactive digital workbooks
Wobo is an excellent, much easier alternative to the PDF options above. And, it takes online learning documents to the next level, beyond just a fillable PDF. With Wobo, you can create beautifully designed, engaging digital workbooks to add enhanced interactivity to your course material. It’s the easiest, fastest, and most effective process. Using pre-built, professionally designed templates, you can customize to your heart's desire and add near-limitless interactive elements like tables, buttons, and sliders. Once downloaded, it also creates a PDF document that is mobile and tablet-friendly.
Unlike Word or InDesign, you don’t need a second software program to create interactive exercises when using Wobo. It’s all in one. And, if you need to make updates later, all updates are reflected in real time for your students. This makes correcting typos and updating links and information easy and fast.
How do you make an interactive PDF or workbook for free?
Depending on what rich media and interactive elements you want, there are some free ways to create a free interactive PDF or workbook:
- Microsoft Word: If you already subscribe to Microsoft Office, you can use it to create limited interactive PDFs with images and links. Microsoft Word docs can be downloaded and saved as a PDF directly in the program.
- Google Docs: If you’re a Google user, you can create a basic interactive PDF file online. Like Word, you can export your Google Doc to PDF, but you won’t get interactive typable fields, just links and simple visual elements.
- Wobo: You can register for a 14-day free trial of Wobo to test out all its advanced workbook features and convenient customizations.
Benefits of creating a digital workbook with Wobo
An excellent interactive document contains a mix of passive resources (also known as reference material) and interactive elements. You can include as many of these in the same document as you need, but don’t overwhelm the student with too many passive or too many interactive resources. Find a balance to help cater to different learning styles. With Wobo, you can include features and activities, including:
- Open-ended questions to keep your audience engaged
- Customizable tables to structure responses
- Radio buttons, dropdown lists, and checkboxes
- Sliders for numerical responses or ratings
- Images and gifs
- Cover pages
- Long answer, and notes sections
- Fill-in-the-blanks exercises
- Links to owned and third-party websites, white papers, and other relevant content
Creating a digital workbook full of interactive content will help enhance your students' learning experience. Not only that, creating it with Wobo has many advantages beyond design and interactive features, which other PDF software doesn’t offer, including:
- Seamless LMS integration: Embed your workbook in your existing Learning Management System (LMS) for easy access
- Visual design-builder: Use the visual drag-and-drop content builder to see what your students see.
- Accessibility features: Keyboard-only navigation, support for screen readers, and alternative text inputs for images.
- Push live updates: Need to make changes after you’ve published? You can edit your workbook anytime, and updates are pushed live to your students.
- Download student work: Students can download their responses and content into a single file.
- Protect your content: Protect your workbook with watermarks and the ability to disable text copying.
- Collaborate with others: Give other instructors access to your course workbooks so they can update and help manage them.
- Group students: Group your students by cohorts to update their workbooks, or provide ongoing access.
It’s free to try Wobo to see how easy it is to create digital workbooks for your students. Sign-up for a free trial of Wobo today.
FAQs for interactive PDFs & workbooks
What software programs can be used to create an interactive PDF?
Many word processing and graphic design programs can be used to create an interactive PDF. Look at the save or export options to save your doc as a PDF. Popular applications to generate PDF files include Microsoft Word, Microsoft Publisher, Google Docs, and Adobe InDesign.
What types of digital content can I include in digital workbooks?
Your PDF template can include many interactive elements, including fillable text fields, videos, audio files, links and animated gifs.
Do I need to password-protect my files?
When you use a workbook builder like Wobo, advanced security features ensure people can’t share your document with others or copy the text. Password-protecting your content is unnecessary if you store it in a secure Learning Management System (LMS). You can use Wobo to disable copying and add watermarks if needed.
How do you create an animated PDF?
PDFs themselves are not animated, but they can contain animated elements, referred to as GIFs. In interactive workbooks, these can be inserted onto a page, much like you would for an image or other graphic, but can’t be added into classic PDFs.
What is Wobo?
Wobo enables course creators to design and build on-brand, interactive workbooks that engage and retain students. Course creators can share key takeaways, diagrams, and provide opportunities for student work that are much more interesting and interactive than a simple question and answer survey. It’s the easiest way to build, share, and manage a digital workbook.
- Can be used on its own or seamlessly embeds in LMS systems.
- Enables creators to easily design, build, and update engaging online workbooks.
- Students get to keep their work in an on-brand artifact of their learning experience.
- Everything you build is instantly mobile-friendly and accessible for visually impaired students.
Do you offer a free trial?
Yep! You can try Wobo for free for 14 days with no credit card required. Get started here!
How does Wobo compare to a PDF or Google Doc?
We're glad you asked! Check out this chart we made to explain why our customers need a unique solution to their course delivery problems:
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