Monday November 25, 2019


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Humans began to communicate through signs and speech long before reading and writing. The first inscriptions being written on walls and later on papyrus. Signs and symbols began to be deciphered, and alphabets and letters came into being. With ink being from plant dyes and paper from trees, the print industry revolutionized the spread of information. Then came the digital era to save trees and space. But, printed books cannot be replaced, be it for education, entertainment, advertisement and many other purposes.


Kids reading with mom

Reading to toddlers and showing them pictures from books is the earliest form of education meant to grasp the attention of the young mind. Parents of school, as well as college-going students, prefer to buy textbooks for their children. They argue that their children will able to “learn better” and “concentrate” from print material as they are free of online distractions. Moreover, children can dog-ear the pages, scribble marginal notes, and highlight key points for easy reference.


Today’s students are digital natives, surrounded by technology like tablets, smartphones and e-readers. In recent years, the teaching faculty, policymakers and parents believe that students’ familiarity and preference for technology translates into better learning outcomes. Schools and colleges have invested heavily in classroom technologies, including iPads and access to e-textbooks. Teachers prefer to communicate about students through emails to monitor and notify parents about their progress.

However, research and various studies, supported by scientific evidence suggest that printed text is better for student’s physical as well as mental health.

Girl and book

Reading comprehension is better with textbooks.

From various researches conducted since 1992 among college and high school students, it was found that students are better able to comprehend information in print, especially if it is something lengthy. This appears to be the result of the greater physical and mental demands of reading on a screen: the nuisance of scrolling, the tiresome glare and flicker of devices affects attention span.  It was easier for readers reading on paper to remember what they had read.

Turning pages and touching paper aids the memory, which makes it easier to remember something you had read. On the other hand, scrolling the computer screen makes remembering material you have read more difficult.

In another study, researchers found that e-books for young readers created with Apple’s iBooks author software provided so many interactive visual features to engage young readers; however, this distracted from attempting to read.

Girl library

Reading books in print is nostalgic.

Many book lovers cherish the tactile qualities of print, the touch and feel of books is something most avid readers love. The smell of books and the visit to libraries to borrow or to study is a memory that most students treasure. The joy that is associated with gifting books, passing down a favorite book through generations or designing a creative bookmark cannot be replaced by a handheld device.

With the introduction of online teaching and learning portals, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the effect digital and social media is having on young minds. Hence, it is even more important to return to printed material to help children grasp, feel and understand its importance.

Kid with glasses

There is a lot of information on the internet, but learning is better in the form of a book.

First and foremost, learning from a book does not cause so much eye strain as that from a screen. It can be difficult to keep focus as there is just too much information available on the internet, and it is just impossible to retain all the information. Also, while computers can provide us with the latest information within a click of a second, there is much information that can be misleading or incorrect.

Students feel disoriented when they read texts from the screen. They have trouble estimating the length of sentences, and they perceive that graphics and tables are harder to read on-screen than on paper. Several studies have pointed out that students encounter navigation issues, and problems relating to locating materials and searching in general with e-books so students still prefer a printed book that they can mark up with a pencil or a marker.


Does the speed of reading a text impact learning?

If you want to browse the newspaper for the headlines, we may pick it up in printed or digital format. If all students are being asked to understand and remember the big idea or gist of what they’re reading, there might be only a slight benefit of choosing one medium over another. Students assume that they can move quickly through digital text, and hence understand better, but, this is an illusion. If the reading assignment demands more engagement and deeper comprehension, students need to slow down. Here, printed text is preferable as students can reread and consciously slow down for learning and understanding.


Reading and writing in print is habitual.

Many of the students are habituated to reading printed text, so far as our brains are concerned, are physical landscapes. A linguistic professor Naomi Baron conducted a survey of reading preferences for her book: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World. 300 university students across the US, Japan, Slovakia and Germany, when given a choice between media from printouts to screen reading, 92% responded that it was a hard copy that best allowed to concentrate.

A series of experiments conducted in 2013, researchers compared the effectiveness of students taking notes versus typing onto laptops. They concluded that the relative slowness of writing by hand demands heavier “mental effort”, forcing students to summarize rather than to quote verbatim. This tends to increase conceptual understanding, application and retention.


Reading to retain

With digital text, students are easily able to copy and paste key passages in a document.  However, friction is always good, at least so far as the remembering brain is concerned. The varied, demanding, motor-skill activating physicality of objects tends to light up our brains brighter than the placeless, weightless scrolling of words on screens.

Textbooks encourage learning in various ways. 

Traditional textbooks can be used without the need for a special reading device or software. Textbooks are designed in such a way that new topics are introduced by making reference to learning objectives and then dive to whatever new topic the chapter introduces.

Textbooks are aesthetically appealing with their graphic illustrations that help, represent abstract concepts, depict models clearly and reveal underlying knowledge structures to help learners make the required connections to take learning further.

Many textbooks promote independent learning by suggesting additional sources of reading, relevant websites and other sources. Supplementary assessment resources usually come in a separate pack.

Student with books

Traditional textbooks are still popular among students.

Textbooks are bulky, especially the hard covered ones. A digital textbook, on the other hand, is easily available for purchase and download. Most publishers are aware of the digital copies of their textbooks, but the sale of e-books is on the decline due to scientific backing.

Students are not necessarily aware of the lower prices of e-textbooks, as compared to hard copies. Additionally, in terms of price, even though students do not get the full price of selling their hard copied textbooks back to their bookstore at the end of the semester, students do appreciate the cash they can get from doing so.


People book

There may be environmental and economic reasons to go paperless. But, in our academic lives, we will always treasure the dog-eared pages, lines of text etched with questions or reflections. in the lives of students, there should always be a place for print - no matter how tech-savvy they become. There are high costs and consequences to discounting the printed words’ value for learning and academic development.


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