Are e-Textbooks Better Than Printed Ones?

Booklovers across the nation are divided into two camps–those who demand the paper version and those who prefer e-textbooks. The lovers of the tangible book consider themselves to be the true bibliophiles–admiring the covers, sniffing the pages, and clutching their literary treasures against their chests. The e-textbook crowd cites portability, lower price, and changeable font size as some of the reasons for their preference. And, when it comes to reading strictly for pleasure’s sake, it doesn’t really matter what form your book takes.

When you are reading to learn, however, there is much more at stake.

Female Student Holding a Pile of Books

Yes, that hernia-inducing, scoliosis-triggering pile of traditional texts may weigh you down, but they are likely to lead to better comprehension and retention of your coursework–which may impact your grades and your future. And students appear to realize this.

Students Don’t Prefer E-textbooks

One would think that the tech-savvy students of the twenty-first century would be eager to adopt all of the latest technologies–including e-textbooks. Not so. In fact, according to “Students Still Not Taking to E-Textbooks,” a study conducted by the Book Industry Study Group shows that only “6% of students are using a core digital text book as their main course material.” This desire to stick with the “old school,” cumbersome text may have publishers stumped, but researchers have proven that learners have very good reasons for eschewing electronic texts.

The Case for Paper

As “Students to E-Textbooks: No Thanks” reports, a study conducted by researchers at Toronto’s Ryerson University found that students believe that the traditional textbook remains superior to its digital counterparts due to a myriad of reasons. They argue that the paper textbook is better able to help them avoid the distractions of the Internet, causes less physical and mental fatigue, makes highlighting and note-taking easier, allows them to find information more quickly, and enables them to access the information long after a course ends.

Clearly, these students were able to identify a number of reasons to support their appreciation for traditional textbooks. But researchers have identified other benefits that the users of paper texts enjoy–whether they are actually aware of them or not.

In Time Magazine‘s “Do E-Books Make it Harder to Remember What You Just Read?, the United Kingdom’s University of Leicester conducted a study in which psychology students were presented with unfamiliar economics buy levitra bulk coursework. Researchers discovered that traditional textbook users were better able to “digest the material more fully” and they required less repetition to impart the same information as their digital book-reading cohorts.

Furthermore, Scientific American‘s “The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper Versus Screens” points to a study conducted by the University of Stavanger in Norway. In said study, grade ten students of similar reading ability each had to read texts of roughly 1500 words in length. The half of the group that read them on paper performed better on reading comprehension tests than those who read PDF files on an LCD monitor. The jury is in and the brain prefers paper textbooks.

Why the Brain Likes Paper

So, the brain appears to prefer paper books. Why? Many think they have determined what makes the traditional printed word more compatible with cognition. It’s all about mapping.

According to “Paper Books Offer Better Reading Comprehension than E-Books,” some scientists believe that our brain “interprets written letters and words as physical objects” and that the ability to flip pages back and forth enables us to develop a “mental map of the contents of a printed text, as if its story were a voyage unfolding through space.”

The very nature of a paper textbook and its innate contextual landmarks–a top and bottom of the page, a right and left page, etc–greatly aids learners in recalling information. An E-Text, on the other hand, is merely an endless stream of words with no actual physical place. The words, in fact, change location as the reader makes their way through the text. Furthermore, this seemingly endless stream of words can be overwhelming to the mind, hindering absorption.

Yes, “5 Benefits of E-Textbooks” may be correct when they say that the only thing heavier than the physical weight of a semester’s worth of college textbooks is the price tag. And, yes, if you opt for traditional textbooks, you may have to invest in a corrective back brace if your commute is a lengthy one. But you may also be better equipped to earn higher grades, win more academic awards, and, in the long run, acquire a better job–and a salary sizeable enough to pay for spinal surgery.

How do you weigh in on the paper vs. e-textbooks debate?

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I am a freelance writer, avid blogger, illustrator, and aspiring novelist who thinks the world is a terribly funny place filled with bizarre things to observe--and, of course, comment on. You can follow her somewhat neurotic and OCD ramblings at The Embiggens Project and at Searching for Barry Weiss.

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