Learning in the Digital Age

These articles on Reading, Writing, and Learning show the benefits and drawbacks of using electronic materials vs. print (E-books vs. textbooks; typing vs. handwriting). The debate over this issue has been ongoing in educational circles, and it has inspired scientific research that analyzes each medium and compares them. Research seems to indicate that “old-fashioned” mediums of print books and handwritten notes are superior for learning. Because E-books are a preferred medium for many, yet, electronic communication is a necessary convenience, going back to print materials seems unlikely and impractical.



Two of the sources, “Learning in the Age of Digital Distraction” by Eric Westervelt, published on NPR, and “A Textbook Dilemma: Digital or Print,” a piece by Claudia Wallis on The Hechinger Report web site, emphasize the distracting nature of online reading material. These authors are very convincing, reminding readers of our common experiences reading online. The flickering ads that appear in the margins of online articles, the tiring glare of screens, and the need for constant scrolling when reading digital material makes it difficult to focus and recall what was just read. Statistics about real and perceived learning (when students read on-screen vs. print texts) were persuasive; however, the highly scientific piece, Book Reading: 2016, by the Pew Research Center, was overwhelming. When too many statistics, charts, and graphs are presented, it is difficult to focus the eye, especially when reading online. The final article, from NPR, “Attention, Students: Put Your Laptops Away,” was very convincing, as it had a clear argument and agenda, but even this persuasive piece conceded, in its conclusion, that it is difficult to convince people to go back to pen and paper.


All of these articles mention and demonstrate the indisputable disadvantage of digital texts: by its very nature, digital material causes or promotes multi-tasking. Hyperlinks within articles, embedded videos, and audio attachments enhance the experience of reading online, but can also distract. It’s easy to get off course and forget where you were after clicking on a video. Research has shown multi-tasking is detrimental to learning because it’s impossible to deeply focus when doing four things at once. It might feel “busy” and engaging, and students today might say they prefer it, but studies show that multitasking actually inhibits recall.


The biggest consideration when comparing digital and print books is their respective impact on learning. Scientific research proves that print allows students to better focus on the material, thereby helping students to retain more information than when reading on screen. There are also proven benefits to hand writing notes and annotating within print books themselves. Writing doubles the learning, in a way, by forcing the use of visual and kinesthetic systems.



Most of these articles are comparisons of pros and cons, requiring the reader to reach a conclusion about the superiority of digital or print texts. Contradictions that are apparent to me are the fact that digital materials are becoming more and more “print-like” in an attempt to replicate the experience of reading printed words on paper. Some devices also allow students to handwrite notes on screen. None of the articles mention these improvements, and these improvements make the comparison between digital and print more balanced.


With the advancements in digital texts, it is debatable whether print will remain “superior” for learning, but in comparing research on learning impacts, I feel certain that print still has advantages over E-books. It cannot be denied that print books also have sensory benefits: they smell good, and they feel good to touch. For these reasons, people may never abandon print books.


The digital world is upon us: there is no going backward, so all readers need to get used to it. Because digital texts are being refined to seem more like print books, their disadvantages are constantly being lessened. Soon, this debate of digital vs. print may be moot. It is the experience of reading that people love, and if digital technology can virtually transport readers into libraries and replicate the reading experience, then does it matter if a book is printed on paper or on screen?

One thought on “Learning in the Digital Age”

  1. Just like everything in life, everybody will have an opinion. Some will love reading digitally, and others will hate it. Same goes with print. I highly doubt that everyone will always be on the same page when it comes to reading because it all comes down to preference. Online reading can be distracting, but it also depends on how easily the individual is distracted. Both sources offers pros and cons, making it harder to say which one is better.
    I also agree how that the digital world is upon us. We can’t just totally ignore the fact that technology is evolving and our world is becoming more advance. However, I think that we, meaning each individual, has a choice as to whether or not they participate in those advancements. I doubt that this debate will blow over anytime soon, because the more advancements we have, the more pros and cons get added to the mix. There are enough resources now for the majority of people to do what works best for them and their learning styles/ habits.

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