As much as I adore children’s books in the hardcopy, I do find my Kindle easier to read, and more accommodating in the evening, when I prefer to linger outside after sunset with my cats and a few mosquito sticks. If I want to read in bed, it’s not necessary to turn on the light. I love the electronic ink and find it perfect for all my pleasure reading. But when we read for information, hard copy, print books are hard to beat. We page back and forth leaving tabs, highlighting certain texts, penciling in the margin, dog-ear the pages, spill soda on the page with the most interesting pictures, etc. A good non-fiction book lends itself to a breadcrumb trail so we can find our way back.
The research in the article stresses the differences in the two formats and brings out the weak points of both. In a nutshell, online information encourages cursory scanning, multitasking (of things other than study), and it’s hard on the eyes. We read screens differently than we read print. We absorb information differently, so even when our digital textbook has proper headings, chances are we didn’t read all the text – or at least not well, so we have difficulty finding the item for review.
There is also some emotional psychology that goes with the picking-up of a book. When you pull out your math book, your history book, or your science book, you change hats. You switch gears, and the book tells you it’s time to think critically on the subject at hand. When you pick up your pleasure reading you get a little brain tickle. But maybe that’s just me. The point is, when you are tied to a screen for your entire education, what are you to do? Switch laptops for each subject – each bearing colorful stickers of math, history, science, etc.? I should mention that none of this is in the study. It’s purely mine.
I’m glad to know that I am not just another Luddite griping about technology that will someday take over and dominate humanity. People DO seem to enjoy being moored to something; the heft of the book, the smell of the paper, the sound of a turning page. Oh, and the smell of the paper.
There may be some evidence that digital is more suitable for non-fiction topics, which makes sense, given that exposition and analysis are easily scan-able for key words. However, depending on the subject, academic classes consist mostly of non-fiction. But that may also depend on the institution.
Sadly, while students from 4 years to 40 are forced into virtual courses right now, this debate rages on in a timely fashion. There are a few things you can do to mitigate that ball-and-chain relationship with all your devices. Where possible, print out what you can. Of course, not everyone has a printer, and these days, who can afford the paper? If a PDF is not offered, cut and paste to a Word document (and delete all the other nonsense). Yes, I am proposing you create your own textbook, so please be respectful of copyright, and be sure to credit the author. Short of that, make your study time as focused as possible – fewer distractions, slower reading, note-taking – anything you can do to enhance your digital learning will help you get the most from the text.
For a more scholarly look at this topic, join The Conversation and read, Do Students Lose Depth in Digital Reading? But, may I recommend the PDF.