Print Books Versus eBooks -- Which is Better?​

Lately, there has been a groundswell of research and opinion saying that print books and materials are often preferable to digital ebooks and materials.  Not only that, the kids prefer them!  Maybe it's time we stop making assumptions about tweens and teens always preferring a digital experience.  Even they like tangible things sometimes.

As you can imagine, this is a big issue in libraries, where we must decide whether to spend our small budgets on digital or print.

But it's also an important issue in schools because of the negative impact that digital materials have on student learning.  And it is an important issue in families, where budgets are often tight, and well meaning parents want to do everything possible to ensure their children read -- even if that means spending a lot of money on a tablet or eReader.

As it turns out, good old fashioned print books -- easy to use (just open them up!), relatively inexpensive (no tablet to buy!) -- are better than eBooks for a lot of reasons.  Below are two articles summarizing our latest understanding of this issue.  Here are the salient points:

  • Student comprehension is much lower with digital materials than with print materials.
  • Student ability to recall information is significantly reduced when they read it in digital form versus print.
  • Students have a harder time immersing themselves in a story or connecting with characters and themes when they read a book in digital form.  Their ability to feel empathy or have an emotional response to a story is compromised with digital.
  • The push for digital textbooks comes more from publishers trying to maximize profits than from any proven educational benefit.
  • Students actually like the feeling of holding a physical book in their hands. They enjoy the experience of reading a physical book -- and of being able to take notes in it.

I know I feel the truth of these things in my own experience of reading a physical book, but I was surprised to read that digital natives feel the same way. If you want to read more, check out the Washington Post article Why Digital Natives Prefer Reading in Print and the Guardian article Readers Absorb Less on Paper Than on Kindles.

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