Text books versus technology: Which is better for student learning?

Published: Apr. 19, 2019 at 6:26 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

"I've always loved reading, I grew up just surrounded by books," says Amy Soma. Soma loved books so much, she grew up to become Fargo Public Schools' Library Program Coordinator. "Part of it is in my DNA. I think anybody who has known me my entire life would say they saw this coming when I was pretty young."

Now, libraries are changing - with more screens like laptops, tablets, and e-readers moving in.

"Students are fascinated with technology, so if you use it well it can be very engaging to them. It helps keep them focused and on task," Soma says.

"My daughter has actually been really into this eBook series when you get through and then you get to a new eBook," says Virginia Clinton, PhD., an Assistant Professor in Educational Foundations and Research at the University of North Dakota.

But new research says this digital shift isn't always a best practice. Clinton analyzed studies comparing student comprehension after reading from traditional paper books to electronic reading devices - and she found paper still holds an edge.

"If you spend an amount of time reading from screens or paper, the amount you learn per minute, so to speak, is going to be a little bit better for paper than screens," Clinton says.

Clinton also found readers were over confident in their skills when using electronic devices - which could have played a part in lowering their understanding of the text.

Still, she says that doesn't mean e-readers don't belong in education - but it does mean print and paper shouldn't go away any time soon.

"This is a complicated issue and there are a lot of benefits of screens in terms of convenience and cost and adaptability, but you need to weigh those out with the benefits that paper might have as well," says Clinton.

"Kids are still – especially our younger kids – are still enthusiastic about books and the library – print books," Soma adds. "I have always poo-pooed the notion that we would see the death of print in my lifetime."

Clinton says all of the studies used individuals who learned how to read using paper, so as more students start out with screens - the results may change. She says her next step will be to research the digital tools out there that can make screen reading more effective.