PDF is a wonderful format. Because PDF is so easy, it has been adopted by everybody. But Adobe invented it and Adobe is a for profit company. This is why many of the advanced features, e.g. forms, do not work on other platforms than the one Adobe is interested in. If you want to get the feel of it, try filling out a form on a Mac or on a mobile device.

Lecturers’ view

PDFs are easy to produce, to send around, to file, upload or download. PDFs look great on every device. The only downside is the updatability. If lecturers produce PDF and distribute them to their students, as soon as they want to change something in the file, they have to go back to the original file – let’s hope they still have it -, usually this will be a MS Word, MS PowerPoint or LaTeX file, make changes, produce the PDF again and redistribute it.

Collaboration is not available. A PDF file is some kind of a dead end. (This is an advantage for many other purposes than lecture material.)

Students’ view

PDFs are great. At least they usually look good in contrast to getting MS Word or MS PowerPoint files from lecturers. Every platform, tool, device can work PDFs and they can be annotated digitally or they can easily be printed out and scribbled on on paper.

Technical side

All is good in the PDF world unless you want to embed videos or any other ‘fancy’ stuff.  You can have videos in  PDFs. Did you know that? It has been around for many years but how many times have you seen it, zero or once? If you want to put lots of bits and bytes into a PDF it will get too big in file size and lose all of its benefits.


Before scrolling down further, try summarizing what you have just read with this interactive summary tool right below. You will be presented with seven sets of statements. Choose the most appropriate for each!

Basic features of the PDF format


Basic Features of Lecture Material: PDF
Ease of use (authoring and portability) EASY
Online/offline OFFLINE
Public/private annotation PRIVATE
Quiz with/w/o tracking NO
Videos NO
Streaming NO
Links YES
Collaboration NO
Update cycle OKAY


We all use PDFs and we know why. Unfortunately the format does not give us the possibilities that we want, no videos, no interactivity and no collaboration.