Is digital really better than print? Authors share their perspective

While the debate over print versus digital textbooks (etextbooks) is not new, the content of that debate has shifted in recent years to which is a more effective learning tool for students. As publishers, instructors and students push towards offering more digital textbooks and learning products, will the benefits outweigh the negatives? Several studies have found that it not only takes readers longer to read text on a screen, they tend to skim much more and thus absorb and retain less information than reading from a physical book. Other etextbook readers have reported the tendency to multi-task while reading. One study reported that 90% of students said they were more likely to multi-task when reading onscreen versus 1% who said they multi-task when reading a print book.

Why print is still winning

The debate about digital textbooks (etextbooks) and whether they will replace their physical counterparts continues this week with recent findings from the University of Washington. Their study showed that roughly 25% of students who were given free versions of etextbooks still purchased a physical copy of the same book.

“These are people who aren’t supposed to remember what it’s like to even smell books,” said Naomi S. Baron, an American University linguist who studies digital communication. “It’s quite astounding.”