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Printed Textbooks vs. E-Books: Students Learn More with Print

Despite our education system’s gradual shift toward online curricula, research shows that students learn more when reading printed textbooks. Here’s why.

It’s time to make the case for paper, especially when it comes to textbooks. School districts across the country are making a move to digital sources, even as research shows that students learn better when using printed textbooks.

Cost is a driving factor for many districts. “Here in New Jersey, I know our school systems are moving away from printed textbooks because of the cost savings,” says Jim Arch, strategic account manager, Domtar. “But that raises the question about children who don’t have online access at home, or whether schools can afford one-to-one digital access.”

But access is only one part of the equation. Educators also need to evaluate whether students learn better with online or printed textbooks and other learning materials. Many organizations have conducted research on this topic, and the results show that students comprehend at a higher level with paper.

Printed Textbooks Improve Comprehension

There are many reasons printed textbooks lead to better comprehension. One is that students read at a slower pace when reading from a printed textbook rather than an online version. Reading slowly gives the material more time to sink in.

Studies have also shown it’s less disruptive to turn a page than to scroll down on a tablet or a screen, so your concentration level is higher with text. Printed textbooks also allow for greater engagement with the material. Students can underline facts, highlight key ideas and make notes in the margin, and they can flip back and forth between pages to review material or enhance their learning.

Students Prefer Printed Textbooks

Not only does the research show better levels of learning with printed textbooks, but the students themselves also see a difference.

Dr. Naomi Baron, a professor of linguistics at American University and a former Guggenheim and Fulbright fellow, studied the relationship between students and their educational materials in her book, “Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World.” She found that four out of five students prefer reading from print for lengthy texts, and 94 percent of students say they concentrate better when reading in print.

The Paper and Packaging Board’s 2017 Back-to-School Report aligns with that research, reporting that 72.4 percent of students have trouble focusing on homework on a computer or tablet, and 93 percent of college students agree that paper is an essential part of being able to achieve their educational goals.

Clearly, print is alive and well — and more important than ever when it comes to learning. Talk with educators and students about the importance of printed textbooks in the classroom.

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