While more students are making use of eReaders for their studies, there are many arguments to suggest that traditional paper textbooks still have a lot of advantages. Which, then, is the better aid for learning? What are their individual merits and drawbacks, and how can the two be used to complement each other? With textbooks able to provide easy to scan and note sources, eReaders provide the benefit of portability and flexibility, but also lack some of the more specific studying advantages of using books.
The main advantage of using a textbook is that you can make extensive notes and easily flip through it to different sections. By contrast, an eReader, while able to provide highlighting and commenting, lacks this flexibility. EReaders are also less able to provide the kind of visual cues and large format breakdowns of information of textbooks; these appeals make textbooks better for detailed academic research.
In terms of cost, textbooks are often individually more expensive than downloading the same content for an eReader. However, you have to weigh up the relative difference in price between investing a few hundred pounds or dollars in a single reading device, and accompanying downloads, or spending the same amount of money on a reading list. In addition, textbooks can be sold back to websites and shops second hand, or to other students. Digital copies for eReaders of the same content currently lack this facility, even with limited sharing options.
Where eReaders do have the edge over textbooks is in portability; rather than lugging multiple textbooks around campus, all of your reading can be contained on a slim device. In terms of studying on the go, whether in coffee shops or on public transport, eReaders have a distinct advantage in terms of weight and usability. In the same way, eReaders are not as constrained as textbooks in terms of physical availability – stores can sell out of copies of textbooks, while an eReader version can be downloaded with one click onto your device.
EReaders do, however, offer better appeals for some forms of studying than others. Literature students that want to cheaply access copies of books can do so through a Kindle or other reading device without having to buy paper copies. Many classic books are available for free on sites such as Project Gutenberg, and can help students to save money. However, most classes will insist that students have a physical copy of a book for use in classes, and to have accurate notation for page references. By contrast, science and maths classes that involve large scale data and diagrams, are most accessible in large formats that can be easily flicked through.
In terms of how students have responded to eReaders in the past few years, a pilot study on using Kindles was carried out in 2011 at the University of Washington. The study tracked student uses of devices over 9 months, and found that while many students reduced their paper based reading, most still relied on textbooks for making written notes, and for revising.
Phillip Barron has also noted how other studies of eReader use in classrooms has hit the same problems of note taking, but identifies how most students are now comfortable with switching between their eReaders and textbooks depending on the situation. Developments in colour tablets and higher quality navigation interfaces are also making it possible for textbooks to be effectively reproduced, albeit without the same kinds of hands on strengths that paper copies still possess. In this sense, most students will arguably continue to use both old and new media as complementary learning aids.
Author Bio: Sarah is a secondary school teacher in the UK. She found his job via http://www.gsleducation.com and loves inspiring the next generation. She can be found blogging about various issues that teachers face today.