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Students learn more effectively from print textbooks than screens, study says (businessinsider.com)
393 points by ALee on Oct 18, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 172 comments



Interesting tidbit, in the sentence in the article " To explore these patterns further, we conducted three studies that explored college students' ability to comprehend information on paper and from screens."

"Three studies" is linked to a single study, not three. The study is on the site tandfonline.com (Taylor and Francis), where you have to pay to read the study.

Also interesting is that Taylor and Francis, on their website taylorandfrancis.com, says "Taylor & Francis Group publishes books for all levels of academic study and professional development, across a wide range of subjects and disciplines."

So long story short, this is a study saying that books are better, that's on a site who's main business is publishing books. Not saying the study is inaccurate, but I find an article, about how books are better, on a book publishers site, somewhat suspect.


I did an in depth review of the research for a Human Computer Interaction class in college a couple years back before the Taylor and Francis study and the research then generally agreed with the idea that reading a print book was the best for comprehension (I tried quickly searching for the paper to pull sources, but no luck). However that difference appeared to be mostly related to form factor and not necessarily from the screen itself. Studies that used tablets showed smaller gaps in performance than studies that used computers. Studies that used e-ink e-readers showed almost no difference in comprehension. I was not able to find a single study that compared more than 2 or 3 different devices using the same methodology. If I were to design a study I would want to see a full range of tests including print books, e-ink e-readers, tablets with full color screens, traditional computer monitors, and e-ink monitors. Hopefully then you could better isolate the cause of the lower comprehension.

My own hypothesis (I have a comp sci degree, so take this psychology explanation with a grain of salt) is that comprehension is more dependent on the person's approach to the technology rather than the technology itself. Books are single purpose devices. When you have a book in your hand your brain knows it is time to focus on reading. When you sit down at a computer, the brain doesn't know what to expect or to focus on. It is similar to other advice about training your brain to expect certain activities such as reserving your bedroom only for sleeping or to have a dedicated home office if you work remotely.


My hypothesis is that the difference is related to how memory works by associations and spatial cognition.

I read lots of research papers and books. I have tried to switch to e-readers several times, but it never works. I learn the subject slower and I remember much less of what I read from e-reader. I use computers and e-readers to skim or check some details, but never to thoroughly study.

If I read physical book or printed article and underline it, leave coffee stains on the paper etc. I'm working with actual physical object. When I achieve the paper in a map, I can often recall where the book is stored physically and even the coffee stains and notes in the paper.

I think physical book or paper works the same way as memory palace technique. You remember stuff by working with them physically better than in abstract. Physical library might be mirrored in our mind. Ancient augmented memory technology we did not know we have and might lose. E-reader or computer associates everything to the same object.


Personally my experiences have been the complete opposite. There are a number of reasons paper books are always going to be second to ebooks to me. The idea of lugging a book/s around. Hunting for a book at a shop or library when I'm feeling the itch to read it sooner rather than later. Flipping through pages whilst looking back up at a screen breaks my concentration. etc..

When the first gen Kindle was released I ordered it right away. It was one of the most liberating devices I've ever owned. I managed to read a ton of books that had been on my read-list for ages. This obviously has much more to do with having everything you want to read immediately available and also the discrete portability to do such.

Also when I would underline text in a book it was as if my brain shutoff. Subconsciously i'm thinking 'Okay I saved this part in the book'. When I'd go back my train of thought is gone and thus the highlight is out of context. So that bit of physicality returns zero for me personally.


This feels like you’re having a different conversation, there was no debate about portability or convenience.

Also, highlighting is one of the worst ways to try to learn:

http://ideas.time.com/2013/01/09/highlighting-is-a-waste-of-...


I apologize for the confusion. My response was half directed towards the post of Nabla9.

"If I read physical book or printed article and underline it, leave coffee stains on the paper etc. I'm working with actual physical object. When I achieve the paper in a map, I can often recall where the book is stored physically and even the coffee stains and notes in the paper."

Thus my response on highlighting.

So what is it about paper or e-books? The debate is between paper and lcd? I was thinking there is something more tangible that makes one more appealing than the other. No? Which is why I stated why I lean towards one more than the other. A practicality rather than a hidden nuance. Which I'm assuming is the real reason?


Heh, I've had the same thought (https://noamswebsite.com/r/books/). We are physical beings after all; at the end of the day our nervous system evolved for the sole purpose of helping our bodies do stuff within a a physical world.

I hope soon with augmented reality I can get the best of both worlds and, for example, point at a word on my book and immediately hear the definition.


It's the same for me - I really enjoy ebooks for non-study material though.

I wonder if it will be the same for my daughter :)


ebooks are great for reading novels.


I'm unsure... E-readers are wonderfully convenient to store multiple novels, but my experience is the same as in your previous post, even for novels. I tend to read non-sequentially -- going backwards and forwards in novels, re-reading previous chapters, going back a bit to re-read a paragraph I liked -- and e-readers are simply not good for that. Printed books are way better. I tend to remember what I read in paper books better than ebooks, exactly what you described for academic papers!


I guess that reading novels non-sequentially is enough of a special case...


Is it? I don't mean "reading randomly, out of order" nor do I mean skipping to the end to read spoilers (though some people, puzzingly, do just that). I mean randomly reading parts I've already read. I assume a lot of people's reading habits are similar to mine.


I don't do that and have never heard of someone doing that. I have heard of people re-reading a chapter they just finished, because they enjoyed it so much or because they felt they missed something. I've heard of people opening a favorite novel to a random page, reading for a bit, then closing it.

The only non-sequential access I ever do in novels is for reference material, things like maps, character lists (e.g. Game of Thrones), or glossaries (e.g. Clockwork Orange). Footnotes on paper are sequential-ish, I read the Three Body Problem novels on a Kindle where you tap on a footnote number to get the text in a separate window and there's close or back button to return to the original page. I heard at least one David Foster Wallace novel had some insanely long footnotes that went on for multiple pages and maybe footnotes within footnotes, I don't know how that works on paper or an e-reader in terms of navigation.


Yea, I love using ebooks for light or SF novels. As well as journalist-y nonfiction (especially ones structured as the story of the writer learning that subject and consisting mostly of vignettes talking with experts). Basically anything I'll just blow through and never look at again.

I never use ebooks for most of what I like to read though. Or cookbooks!


I find it personally important how fast the device is and how easy it is to use, if I can quickly look up things in the document and find my way back. If chapter references are clickable and so on.


I certainly agree with that. There are features available on each device that change their usability and that should be factored in when deciding what should be used in the classroom. However preferences for the different functionality isn't particularly interesting from a research perspective. It will vary too widely among users and use cases (e.g. novels have different feature demands than textbooks). The fact that reading comprehension varies between the devices is more counterintuitive and it isn't immediately clear why those differences exists. That is probably why most of the research on this topic focuses on comprehension.


I'd add that I also think there is a three dimensional cataloging of information that you get from using a thick textbook.

"Chapter 19" gets stored in your own memory in three dimensional space. Flipping backwards and forwards on topics can result in an unintentional mnemonic device.

Especially when you consider a typical introduction to of comp-sci textbook (for example) the foundational principles (input, output, variables, loops) are all organized at the FRONT of the book.

Things of increasing complexity are gated behind the foundations.

Now that's also probably just a window into how my 40 year old brain grew up. With textbooks etc... there's nothing to say that younger brains won't re-wire themselves to learn from a screen and find their own mnemonics - maybe it's left and right as opposed to forward and back.


> When you sit down at a computer, the brain doesn't know what to expect or to focus on

but on the upside, there really is a lot more depth to using a computer. Hyperlinks alone are a timesaver already; simple dynamic applications like animation/diagramming, interactive text search or, in technical topics, whole virtual environments that text is merely companion too are a huge boon for engagement and neigh impossible in plaintext.


Maybe that's a curse in disguise. Too much choice, directions to branch off in causes dissonance. Paradox of choice.


I wonder how much the gap would be narrowed simply by being able to put general-purpose devices into an instructor-locked single-app mode.


I’d expect the conditioning to be subconscious. Doesn’t matter the computer is locked down. Your brain sees a computer, which triggers a multitasking, distraction-rich mode.


How did you test comprehension in the study? With a test on a screen, paper or verbally? If I recall correctly similar environments in test taking and learning have a big impact on your capacity to remember (and probably also on comprehension).


First, on your notion of bias:

Taylor and Francis is owned by informa.

A trivial search for informa's annual report would reveal that academic publishing makes up 45.7% of their operating profit, and 50% of that comes from subscriptions, almost all of which are digital.

Further, most of their major initiatives are in digital, especially for journals which are most of their revenue.

Second, on your "three studies" objection - they're looking at three separate outcomes, as they mention in the article. It's common to lump the results of multiple highly related studies in a single paper.

Third, as noted by another commenter, nearly all peer-reviewed journal articles are going to be published by publishers who also have a stake in other aspect of academic publishing.


I highly doubt Informa is keeping TnF around as a charity cause. They need to keep doing what they do, sell books, to make corporate happy.

TnF claim to publish 1,500 new titles each year. Informa isn't just eating that entire cost.


I'm not suggesting it's a charity cause. I'm suggesting that there's no evidence that they're print-biased, given T&F is also a journal publisher, and the subscriptions vs. physical units breakdown is literally 50/50


Journal subscriptions aren't a replacement for textbooks. eBooks are. And the margins on eBooks are lower than print books.


Indeed. These studies need to be done by independent researchers multiple times and published in a number of independent venues in which the publishers (who clearly have reason to tamper) have no control over the content nor the peer review selection process (again, to be performed independently).


Journal publishers have very little control over the content or selection of peer reviewers. That's the editorial board.


https://www.elsevier.com/editors/editorial-boards

> Editorial board members are selected by the journal’s editor(s), with input from the publisher.

hrmn.


I'm saying in a practical sense, the publication of a single paper, and the choice of peer reviewers, is effectively not under the control of the publisher.

I mean yeah, technically, Al Gore had input on whether or not I worked at Apple, because he was on the Board of Directors. But practically?


The point is that it is not independent in there is a clear, direct path for coercion in arrangements such as that. Did Al Gore have a hand in hiring you at Apple? Probably not, no, but could they have? Could they have you fired or at least influence the board against renewing your contract if you did something they didn't like? I think the answer there is yes.


The idea that a publisher would threaten a major profit center (because doing something like this is a good way to kill a journal) over one paper that mostly just says what form the consumer wants to engage with their content in is absurd.

Hell, odds are they didn't even know about it until it went to print. If then. In Education alone T&F publishes 250+ journals. I almost guarantee you they have well less than one staff member per journal. The metrics they care about are "Are you publishing enough papers?", "Are you making money?" and "Are your publishing metrics going up?"

"Does a submitted paper suggest that our digital strategy might be less important than traditional print, and I want you to jeopardize the reputation of your journal for it" is fairly far-fetched, especially with no evidence besides "Publication was published by a publisher."


The structure for systemic corruption is there and the best argument you can make is for "one paper". Yes, I agree with you - but that's not what we're talking about at all.


It's in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, written by academics in the field, not by T&F itself, nor funded by them. While there are problems with the peer reviewed system, publisher interference with research results isn't typically one of them.


yes this: http://taylorandfrancis.com/books/

this is called conflict of interest. I would rather carry ipad air or like sized tablet anyday rather than 5kilos of books in my backpack.


...and of course each year they print a new version of each book with some of the content shuffled around ("improvements"), to force students to buy NEW books instead of re-using / buying second-hand.


Instead of testing a null hypothesis through statistical inference, a dubious approach to the scientific method for either a frequentist or Bayesian, how about an appeal to common sense experience?

Out of the scope of the study in question, but do you think a device attached to the world of social media, pornography and video gaming might be more distracting than a book containing focused information?

Closer to the study: even a Kindle offers the temptation of downloading another text.

Also, have you been into a public high school lately and seen just how distracting these devices are in actual use, especially as they are now relied upon in place of expensive textbooks and articles?

Finally, isn't it suspicious that an individual on a technology forum would defend technology? It's almost like your average technology worker has some kind of moral stake in their profession, wouldn't you say?


I have a friend who says something is "reasonable" when he can't think of a specific justification for it. I feel the same way about appeals to common sense. They rely entirely on the predisposition of the audience.


If you have some spare time I'd be happy to have a video chat conversation about the epistomological consequences of academic studies in soft sciences like psychology, sociology and economics and how the experiences of the target audience are always key to accepting knowledge.

I don't think my arguments are going to be very effective in the comment section of a web forum. (See Socrates discussing the written word with Phaedrus for the epistomological issues of discourse without active dialog.)


I'm not really looking to argue. I'm on vacation in Ecuador. For the sake of conversation, I think your final point in the post I originally responded to is largely similar to the idea that a textbook publisher is not an unbiased source regarding the utility of textbooks. I agree with that point, and with yours.

I also believe that the fundamental strength of empirical epistemology is that it liberates us to some degree from our expectations, instead saying "set up the method and do the legwork, and let the results tell you what is correct." I happen to like that methodology, for two reasons. First, empiricism allows a more open minded approach to misconceived problems. Second, if applied correctly, empiricism is the only consistently useful epistemology because it is acquired in the same practical manner as it is applied.

That said, I think academia has a very low bar in general for research that is politically well-oriented, but scientifically ill-constructed. I think the peer-review system is less of a check on BS than it should be, and that there is a lot of social pressure that prevents researchers from stepping out of certain boundaries. Nowhere is this more true than in the social sciences, where there is more room to fudge facts and findings, as well as to infer and opine. So in a sense I totally agree that the target audience is always key to accepting knowledge in academia.

However, knowledge and truth are not identical sets, and something can be proven true without being accepted into the corpus of knowledge. Conversely, some of the BS that gets bandied about as "knowledge" in academic circles is just untrue gibberish that helps people go to conferences or gain acceptance in a weird elitist circle of ivory tower pinheads.

And then you get stuff like a textbook company publishing research saying "Nah bro textbooks are way better. Buy more of them bro."


Thank you for the thoughtful response!

Empiricism as applied to theories of gravity is one thing. Empiricism through statistical inference is entirely different.

I can actually reproduce the expected results of the theories of gravity by measurements related to projectiles and celestial bodies. In this way I can directly experience their truths.

However, I cannot reproduce the results of the majority of psychologic, economic, and sociologic experiments for a number of reasons, and for the sake of brevity I'll just refer any readers to a couple of Wikipedia articles.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Replication_crisis

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misunderstandings_of_p-values

Beyond these issues with methodology are the dissemination to and interpretation by the general public who will not have access to the studies themselves and will always and only be presented with summaries unless they happen to know someone with access to a digital or analog university library. This makes discussions about methodology moot as most people will not be able to examine the nature of the experiment.

Considering the general public's access to academic knowledge is restricted while their access to commercially produced knowledge is promoted and subsidized by advertising, we should be able to see the epistemic crisis in our contemporary age of information.


I think the big mistake one can do when comparing digital and physical textbooks is compare then one-on-one with a level playing field. Why do that?

Digital textbooks can offer so much more than print textbooks. They can have embedded interactive content, ranging from extremely zoomable 2D content to see something in detail to rotatable 3D models. They can have videos. Or just audio, say to listen to case studies or know how a bird sounds. They can have automatically gradable quizzes and exercises. There is so much more digital books can offer.

Once you bring in these advantages, I bet the pedagogical advantages will be enormous. I'd like to see that study, and I bet digital books will blow everything out of the water.

There are advantages apart from learning benefits. Errata can be a thing of a past with updatable textbooks. You can search for every single word easily and save time. There's no wear and tear. Students can get away with having textbooks on their phones, avoiding carrying textbooks weighing several pounds. Another huge benefit is accessibility. From large font to audio output, all accessibility features ever possible on a computer are possible with the textbook with minimal effort.

The publishing industry is only limiting itself because any innovation on its digital books will mean death of its money maker. It will mean much less production and distribution costs which will put in question its atrocious pricing.


> Digital textbooks can offer so much more than print textbooks.

Yes, digital textbooks can offer so much more, and yet maybe the "so much more" is their biggest pitfall: they (and/or the device serving as their platform) offer near limitless opportunities for distraction. While our attention span - or our lack thereof, trained as we are by the 3 second rule TV commercials push on us - might be able to get a major workout that leaves us exhausted and feeling like we have accomplished something (though in reality, hardly anything) - the digital format and form of delivery can rob us of our ability to freely focus. Let's face it, even with a good old-fashioned hard cover we can encounter distractions, and when we use digital, we're opening ourselves up to overwhelming levels of "opportunities for distraction" in which environment the human mind/body/condition is incapable of flourishing. Ironically, the very limitations of the physical textbook may be one of its liberating features.


I think that argument is often made because it is easy to make. Just because one reads from a paper textbook means one is avoiding distractions? What about phones and their incessant alerts?

One way you can avoid distractions is to limit the features of the device. Pull internet access. The problem here is with the student more than the device. I tend to get distracted a lot when reading a digital textbook too. It takes effort, but also does not looking at your phone when you are reading a textbook.



One has the option of leaving the phone in a dorm room and going to the library.

> the problem here is with the student.

In all such things, we need to think about the combined student-device system, no? Especially since it is orders of magnitude cheaper and more straightforward to change the device than to change the student.


Still, I think it's easier to ignore a distraction on a phone, which you can easily put on silent vs. a computer where you're a click away from facebook.

The less effort that's required to focus, the better.


That's a great point. The other day in a teacher parent conference a 30 year veteran elementary teacher told me that the "attention a pan" of kids was down to 5 minutes. After five minutes on a subject the kids would completely shut down. Every five minutes she has to completely switch gears - within the same subject and same topic - just to keep them entertained enough to not lose their focus. "Digital media have shredded their ability to focus."


I bet the kind of attention matters, ie. what matter is payed attention to. Keen observation anyhow.


> they offer near limitless opportunities

My daughter is in a book-free school where all textbooks are provided on an iPad and I can tell you that the vast majority are glorified PDF readers with an occasional video. They only just started to exploit any of the advantages the new medium offers.


> I think the big mistake one can do when comparing digital and physical textbooks is compare then one-on-one with a level playing field. Why do that?

> Digital textbooks can offer so much more than print textbooks. They can have embedded interactive content, ranging from zoomable 2D content to see something in detail to rotatable 3D models. They can have videos. They can have automatically gradable quizzes and exercises.

I absolutely agree. Moreover, there might be some situations where physical books might be BETTER and some situations where a digital textbook might be better.

When it comes to textbooks, our effort should be focused on books that are unencumbered by copyright and other such malaise. The goal for the future should be open education resources such as open education resources

> Open educational resources (OERs) are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under a copyright license that permits anyone to freely use and repurpose them. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, journal articles, and any other tools or materials used to support learning.

I am not saying CUNY's efforts are on the spot (I have no idea how far they've gotten so far tbh) but I think it is a step in the right direction http://www2.cuny.edu/libraries/open-educational-resources/


>When it comes to textbooks, our effort should be focused on books that are unencumbered by copyright and other such malaise. The goal for the future should be open education resources such as open education resources

I have the exact same opinion. I commented right here on HN about the importance of these kinds of free resources. The CS community is leading with this, but I see other fields catching up with this too.

Edit: Found my comment[1](Google is amazingly powerful and scary). Check out the textbook to see what I'm talking about with the 'rich content' argument.

[1]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13905438


> When it comes to textbooks, our effort should be focused on books that are unencumbered by copyright and other such malaise.

The cost of copyrighted textbook can be substantial, but they are usually dwarfed by the cost of the larger educational undertaking. Open access textbooks is a good goal, but I'm not sure I it as critical to improving education.


> The cost of copyrighted textbook can be substantial, but they are usually dwarfed by the cost of the larger educational undertaking. Open access textbooks is a good goal, but I'm not sure I it as critical to improving education.

I absolutely agree. We have to bring down the cost in higher education. I'd go as far as to say that for public institutions, we should considerably bring down the administrative cost which is not possible without removing a lot of the reporting requirement. We require our schools and colleges to do far more than just teach. There is no reason why public schools should compete against private, land grant schools by outspending on athletics and fancy dorms (no, please don't tell me these programs make more money than we put into it because it is NOT TRUE for all colleges as a whole). For public schools, it should be easy to calculate the median annual income of all teaching staff (tenured professors, non-tenured professors, associate professors, adjuncts, lecturers, graduate assistants, yada yada) and enforce that nobody not even the football coach makes more than twice that median. There are a lot of things we need to do to lower the cost, including some things that will make the unions mad at us and some things that will make the administration mad at us (basically we will make enemies all around if we want to do the right thing which is mostly why we can't do the right thing).

Above, I was just talking about books. Once we remove the "intellectual property" part out of the textbooks out of the equation, we can have very cheap books that anyone can print and we can more fairly assess the cost of print vs screen.


Something I believe is that college tuition isn't high because maintaining a college is expensive due to the unnecessary expenditure you state. I think it is high so that the money can be used fund other, more important parts of the university.

One of the primary ways a college gets 'ranked', and thereby attracts better students is by research efforts of the university. Now research needs money, from equipment to paying post docs to retaining good professors. State universities get federal grants, but is that sufficient to compete against private universities that charge $40k+ each semester?

I think lack of research funding is the reason college tuition being so high. I also think driving down costs will only drive down the quality of education, since lower salaries mean less resources for research & sub-par profs (because they'll be at $TECH_COMPANY) -> lower ranking -> less 'good' students -> less research. And at some point you'd be stuck in the same situation as the public middle and secondary schools, where administration has to pinch pennies and reduce programs that benefit students.

Sounds messed up, but the only way out is more funding from the state if you want a cheap college education. Or just avoid the costs and get yourself an Internet Education.


Sorry, I'm very bad at explaining myself. I do want more money to go into education. My thought was of we pegged administrator pay to professor pay, we could offer a living wage* (or better?) to our (non tenure track) adjuncts and postgrads.

By the way, I sincerely doubt we can afford to match private sector pay. (Look at the military and see how much they stretch every dollar when it comes to salary). We don't have to match private sector pay. We just have to pay our teaching staff enough and not make their job too miserable. I mean where are you going to go off you want to do basic research?

As much as we hate to admit it, there is a lot of what I'd call waste. We have too many people in management making six figure salaries who act in their own self interest first. I sincerely believe there should be a pay cut for management (from the college president down to all management).

I love the idea of an Internet education too but I feel like there might be value to being there in person sometimes? I'm not sure what I'm talking about.

*https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8777899


Definitely agree we should bring down the cost while keeping or improving academic standards, but your quick fixes are pretty naive. If all we needed to do was dock coach's salary to make a school affordable, or require open access text books, it would have been done long ago. Most professors aren't wealthy. Public schools are huge institutions, limiting their administrations power to set salaries or assign books can cause far more harm, hurt recruitment and quality. I don't have a quick fix, other than making much larger investments in education with public dollars.


Digital textbooks can offer so much more than print textbook

There's no digital interface as fast or intuitive as sticking a finger in a page to flip back and forwards, or scribbling in a margin, or any of the other ways that people physically interact with books. Maybe there will be one day but reading a PDF on a screen doesn't even come close.


I hate buying text books in electronic form. I still more where or less to find the equations I am looking for in the 1300 odd page Gravitation by MTW, yet zooming back and forth in even a small pdf is an exercise in frustration.


What digital could offer is interaction. See Bret Victor: http://worrydream.com/ExplorableExplanations/


I strongly suspect the act of "self-visualisation" of a concept trumps being just shown it for developing true understanding.


The flexibility of having a computer read the text via text to speech is a huge benefit IMO. My reading speed is painfully slow but with espeak or a screen reader I can parse about 400 wpm.

One thing that helped me a lot was doing a keybinding for espeak via:

  xsel | espeak -v en-us -s 400
I have a relative with dyslexia and it was a helpful hack for him to get reading faster too. Too bad this doesn't usually work as well in school settings where they use physical textbooks.


For any Mac users wanting to try out text to speech and who didn't already know, it's built into OSX. Have a look in your Preferences panel.

It can be very useful if you want to 'read' something while looking at something else, like a game.


You might not know this, but you don't need to go through the Preferences panel. You can use the `say` command from the command line, which uses the same engine, but you can pipe text to it. For example, to dictate whatever's on the clipboard,

    pbpaste | say


> I'd like to see that study, and I bet digital books will blow everything out of the water.

I'm not so sure. Static, printed 2D paper isn't nearly so limiting as you'd think. The time dimension is one of the hardest ways to convey information, and often times it ends up being used merely as animation gap-filling while you're waiting for slow narration to catch up. Auditory information could help people who process it better than written information, but outside of some rather limited scenarios where specifically auditory knowledge is required (such as language learning), it's not really providing anything useful for other people. Interactivity too is overrated: its biggest utility is in allowing people to explore data, whereas the main goal of textbooks is to convey information [1], at which point a well-chosen static snapshot is sufficient to direct people to the important information.

The aspect of quizzing students and automatically grading is possibly beneficial, but it's really orthogonal to the question of digital or print textbooks. Indeed, textbook manufacturers already have embraced the online homework market, since a one-time-only key to access the site is an effective way to kill the used textbook market. But other than saving TAs the burden of grading assignments, it doesn't add much pedagogical value; the real pedagogical value would be in using such assessments to figure out what the student's internal memory map is and where it is going wrong, but that is not yet possible with our technology and I doubt it's on the cards anytime soon.

[1] One can argue that it's better to let users draw conclusions for themselves so as to challenge the author's viewpoint. But that's not the metric that's going to be selected for in textbooks, which is to measure retention of information, and it's probably going to be somewhat counterproductive of the desired metric.


>I'm not so sure. Static, printed 2D paper isn't nearly so limiting as you'd think.

The real benefits of e-textbooks aren't little interactive animations, but substantive learning-by-doing. For example, having a real interpreter or simulator built into the learning software. A good example of this concept is Resig's advanced javascript tutorial (https://johnresig.com/apps/learn/), but you could easily see something similar for learning accounting or other areas where software is integral to the concepts.


>whereas the main goal of textbooks is to convey information

True, but digital textbooks can be more than just 'text'-books. I'm not sure that field you had in mind, but in the scientific field, from chemistry to physics to biology, virtual models can help out a lot.

The entire point of doing lab work in these fields is so that they can associate what they _read_ in the textbook with what they can touch and play around with in the lab. So now I'm talking about bridging the gap. Instead of just conveying information, they can give experiences. Like vibrating a string in specific ways to study harmonic motion, to cutting open a plant's cell membrane to be able to zoom into each part of the plant cell in excruciating detail.

Again, I think we are just limiting ourself to what the conventional method of education has been. I think it is due for a change. With the internet revolution, you don't need a lecturer to be in front of you but you can rather watch a video and text your TA. With VR/AR Coming Soon™, experiences you and I have never had can be part of middle school curriculum. The resources we've put into software can pay off.


> Digital textbooks can offer so much more than print textbooks. They can have embedded interactive content, ranging from extremely zoomable 2D content to see something in detail to rotatable 3D models. They can have videos. Or just audio, say to listen to case studies or know how a bird sounds. They can have automatically gradable quizzes and exercises. There is so much more digital books can offer.

Yes yes yes yes!

I love your thinking.

I'd love to see a startup specifically targeting this-- A new type of publication. You pay for it like an e-book, but it's interactive like an application, and super high quality.

Maybe we could start with programming books? Take the best of the programming books out there and re-interpret them as this new sort of interactive product.


You might be interested in the work done by Mike Matas + Bret Victor for Al Gore's "Our Choice", I was expecting that project would be the first of a wave of digital books, but I guess it never happened. (Or maybe it did?)

http://pushpoppress.com/ourchoice/

edit: Related: https://www.ted.com/talks/mike_matas

(Mike Matas is now at Facebook and worked on Facebook Paper and Instant Articles, probably other stuff not on his website. Bret Victor is now working on Dynamicland at HARC.)


Yes, digital textbooks can have all those nifty things, but usually don't. And cross-referencing something in a digital textbook? Forget about it. In a paper book it's so much easier to flip back to check something out than in a digital textbook - even more so if you're quickly flipping back and forth comparing passages, or comparing between books. Textbooks work in most lighting conditions, don't need power/recharging, and don't have reflections of the overhead lights to distract you.

They both have their pros and cons, but the actual experience of digital textbooks falls far short of their promise.


While I do think that current implementations of digital books are very lacking and thus don't compare as well with physical books as they could, this is one area I have to disagree.

Flipping back through a physical book requires a process of trial and error while looking for that previous page, or referencing the index. A digital book usually comes with a search function that can knock that out a lot quicker.


> Flipping back through a physical book requires a process of trial and error

And yet I am so much faster at finding that vaguely remembered section or passage by using that process of trial and error in a paper book than I am on an ereader. That physical third dimension makes it so much easier to remember roughly where it is.


We've had textbooks a couple centuries now. It has been about 7 years since the iPad has been released (and then followed the tablet revolution). I'd say give it time.


It doesn't matter if you don't retain anything. Anecdotally at least, I and most people I know absorb information better on the printed paper than on a computer screen. Even when I'm writing code, i'm usually taking notes and drawing diagrams in a notebook. Digital media or a supplement, not a replacement, for traditional dead-tree media.


See this is what I'm saying is a bad comparison. Why compare text on paper to text on a screen? Compare text on a paper to rich interactive content on screen. Say you have a really good screen to write on like the iPad Pro where you have minimal latency, infinite space and colors to work with.

Also I think you preferring paper is more out of habit than any real advantage. I know of professors who need real chalk on their hand because paper and pen just don't work for them.

It has been a personal battle for me too. I love writing on fresh paper with a select few of my favorite pens. It felt like I was doing something, rather than hit away at a keyboard or a screen. But I've convinced myself of the advantages - instant accessibility anywhere, copies to share easily and backups that last a lifetime.


I went to law school. In school, I took notes entirely on the computer, and was convinced that this was the best way. Then, I started practicing law. In meetings and interviews, I took notes entirely on paper, and was convinced it was the best way.

It all depends on context.


Considering your anecdote about professors who need real chalk on their hand, I wonder if this is a generational thing. Do many people born in the 90s and later still prefer reading from paper and handwriting (regardless of surface)?

FWIW, since I have low vision (from birth), the notion of handwriting being desirable is utterly foreign to me. I could do handwriting, slowly and tediously, but I was happy to do my homework (and later in-class note-taking) on a computer as soon as I could.


I don't think the grand-parent poster said anything about preference. It may very well be the case that retention of information is better from dead tree books even though people prefer digital media. (Example: I'm sure most people would prefer to eat chocolate most of the time, but that doesn't really work out so well...)

That said, I think the accessibility argument is an strong one, especially if text can be read out loud and/or re-flowed properly (like on web pages) based on font size, but I honestly don't see why textbooks couldn't be provided both as digital and text. Surely the cost of producing the textbook is pretty marginal if you're already doing whiz-bang animations, etc. for the digital version? The bulk of the text should be identical, I should think.


>I wonder if this is a generational thing

Exactly.


> Why compare text on paper to text on a screen? Compare text on a paper to rich interactive content on screen.

How would a "rich interactive" version of, say, a historical speech or a short story look like?


Well, for starters you could have little 'Did you know?' pieces embedded in the text. Historical speeches need a ton of context to be assimilated properly. Immediate reference akin to a quick hyperlink based aside can give context without taking away from the continuity of the speech.


> without taking away from the continuity of the speech

Of course it takes away from the continuity. Whether that's good or bad is another question, but not that. If words are to mean anything, that is.

And you can learn about the context before you read the speech. Which makes perfect sense, because the context came before the speech, it was created within it. To first read the speech and then maybe read up on some context here and there is nowhere near the same thing.

Imagine learning a language, and then listening to a musical in that language. Now listen in a musical in a language you don't know with a dictionary. Now I'm not a fan of musicals, but the difference is obvious. You can't make everything infinitely convenient and just in time without losing anything.

> assimilated properly

That's an oxymoron to me. Assimilation isn't proper, and it's not learning.


What's the goal of putting a speech in an history book if not to help people learn about the context?

Destroying the speech is not a problem here. And students can always read it first, read it following references, read it again.


This is an excellent point. If digital textbooks are sold as alternatives to physical ones, then I’m not interested as they’re the same copies but one is in a more convenient format (for me.) Why aren’t digital features taken advantage of more often? When I first saw iBooks, that got me excited. Sadly that kind of interactive eBooks never really took off.


I think interactive features aren't used more often because there tends to be significant programming work required to make them. The "explorable explanations" movement has produced amazing works (e.g. http://ncase.me), but there's a lot of custom code involved.

Some aspects of interactivity can be handled by a one-size-fits-all solution (like zoomable charts or embedded video/audio), but I don't think that it will be possible to go much further without involving programmers. And that makes interactive features orders of magnitude more expensive than just a static image, leaving the cool stuff to hobbyists who have the time to make it work.


I know there are specialist JavaScript libraries for this, but I find it hard to believe that there aren’t any WYSIWYG tools that allows you to create layouts and add interactivity such as hotspots and simple animation..


In general I'd rather just have text. The only nice thing about e-books is that they're cheaper and have copy/search.

The DRMed ones remove this and charge as much as the physical books, which just defeats the whole point.


Ebooks will replace physical books when they get integrated with VR.

Even then... I still refer to a book printed in 1857. Not sure my digital content will last that long without massive maintenance and transformations. A physical book only needs to be kept in a dry place, that's all.


>> Digital textbooks can offer so much more than print textbooks.

I agree. I was recently in China lecturing. I took about 100 textbooks on a portable hard drive. It was magic having immediate access to that knowledge. By way of comparison, there was no way I could have taken more than a couple of physical textbooks with me.

BUT I still needed to make my own notes on paper. Physically writing notes on paper seems to me to be the best way of summarising material that I need to remember.


When I had a minimally good e-reader, taking notes on it used to beat paper even it having a delay (that could be engineered out of e-readers).

Then it broke, ditto for the company that made it, and there is nothing more on the market nearly as good. Nowadays I go into paper for taking notes too.


>Physically writing notes on paper seems to me to be the best way of summarising material that I need to remember.

Re-iterating what I said elsewhere in the thread. It is a false notion that writing on a paper is somehow superior to typing it out on a keyboard. I feel the only reason people feel better when writing paper notes is because they're used to it. Taking notes on electronic devices is fairly new. It is alien to our brain which have known the other way for a long time.


Those studies are usually done on students (because they are readily available as research subjects) and those tend to be "digital natives" who are quite used to keyboards.

From an article[1] about one such study:

The results revealed that while the two types of note-takers performed equally well on questions that involved recalling facts, laptop note-takers performed significantly worse on the conceptual questions.

The notes from laptop users contained more words and more verbatim overlap with the lecture, compared to the notes that were written by hand. Overall, students who took more notes performed better, but so did those who had less verbatim overlap, suggesting that the benefit of having more content is canceled out by “mindless transcription.”

“It may be that longhand note takers engage in more processing than laptop note takers, thus selecting more important information to include in their notes, which enables them to study this content more efficiently,” the researchers write.

I.e. because a keyboard lets you take more notes, you have to think less about them. Good for literal transcription, bad for actually understanding.

Of course this suggests that taking notes on a laptop might be better if you make it more difficult. E.g. if you had to retype your notes multiple times to avoid them fading away, that would certainly improve retention and encourage conceptualization. You could also enhance it by sending each typed-out word to a text-to-speech engine, thus adding another sensory reinforcement.

But as it is currently practiced, taking notes on a computer apparently still loses out to pen and paper.

[1] http://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/take-notes...


Thanks. Got a few useful references by using your link as a jumping-off point.


If you need to quickly add a note or draw a quick sketch then writing on paper has a lot of advantages as compared to typing it out on a keyboard.


you can have plain video and podcasts, too. i mean that's why people go to lectures, because that format is easier to poick up yet, we are wired for that.


> There may be economic and environmental reasons to go paperless.

There are also practical considerations.

I much prefer physical textbooks but their bulk presents an issue. It's not fun hauling around one tome per class. I remember back in high school my backpack weighed 30+ lbs.

Last year I bought a 12.9 iPad pro as a textbook replacement. It works great (still miss the physical paper though). It has also greatly reduced the amount of weight on my shoulders during my bike commute to and from school. Nowadays I only carry my laptop and my tablet in my backpack.

Goodnotes can handle huge PDFs and enables me to write on and highlight the text. Voice Dream Reader is a great app to help slog through boring reading (Salli is the best voice I've found so far for scientific lit). I don't use Kindle-like ebooks for textbooks. Similar to what u/acconrad said, I need to be able to write on the text.

With all that in mind, my iPad pro is a designated READING device. I have notifications aggressively disabled for pretty much every app. No Facebook social media apps allowed. I won't/can't even log into Facebook on my web browser (someone else manages my password).


Do you write math or long notes, or just a few words? I have not found any stylus / tablet combination that allows me to write as freely as pen / paper, no matter how much I'd like to go digital for portability.


It's not too burdensome to add a notebook and pen to your kit.

When I was last in school, I also used an iPad (with GoodReader, GoodNotes & Voice Dream, 'cuz each is better than the others at at least one thing I care about), but I only used it for reading and annotating books & papers. I agree that it's not a great option as a replacement for a notebook.


What is your use case for GoodReader? I'm curious.


I don't take notes with my ipad pro. I only use it to annotate textbooks. Notes are taken with either pen & paper or my MBP.


I import my pdfs into OneNote and use a Surface Pro to annotate on them and take notes. This works very well for me. Pure notes, as in summaries of a paragraph of text i just type into a Word Document usually, however i have recently read that handwriting helps memorization, so i might switch to a real notebook for that kind of stuff.


> (someone else manages my password).

I'm curious what you mean by this.. someone set your FB password and has to log in for you in order for you to be able to access it? That seems weird. Why?


It's something I've considered doing to stop myself from compulsively checking it. Some people (me included) have low self control.


I don’t use it, what’s so interesting about it?


The allure of being less confined in the variety of social events and encounters that become possible by using FB/social media. Whether or not that ends up being the case, or whether it is rewarding enough for the associated negative aspects (remotely-induced stress, obsessive behaviors, anxiety, etc.) in the long term ends up being a factor as to whether or not someone keeps using it.


Thanks for the write up. To me it seems more like an endless “look at Me!”, with ads in between...


[flagged]


Some people have weaknesses. Alcoholics should avoid bars instead of constantly testing their self-control.

There are times to focus on self-improvement, but in the meantime, we can’t halt our lives to do so. Appropriate time and place.


Ok, but that doesn’t mean it’s ok to say something like this and then completely neglect the underlying issues. Even if they’re not urgent, if you’re not working on them you should expect they will never get better on their own. That’s why you shouldn’t just ignore these things. Plus, I’d bet on them becoming bigger problems if neglected not smaller ones. It’s tough stuff but running from it seems like bad advice to me.


If you leave something really long enough, you will stop needing it. Of course you may have relapse, but, never stop trying.

I did something similar with gaming. It works.


I had the problem of needing Facebook. I found I was checking it every few minutes, sometimes as often as twice a minute, so I decided that I was going to demonstrate some self-control: I closed my account.

You're absolutely right - after the first few days, I stopped thinking about checking it all the time. After a couple of months, I stopped thinking about it at all. A few years later, I don't even think about it most weeks. Every now and then, I do find myself thinking that I should open another account and that it will be different this time, but deep down I know it won't be.


If you don't have self-control, remove the "self" from the equation?


^^^ this.

FB is a huge time sink and I rarely need it for legitimate matters. If I want to use it, my designated password-holder logs me in. I can always go through the reset process if I need it and they are not around. But the hassle of resetting is enough of a deterrent from absentmindedly checking my feed every half-hour.


Got it, thanks for the clarification


I am curious if you use something to highlight, write on web pages while reading on web. I haven't found ideal tool for that yet.


I settled on opening the page in readability mode on my computer, and saving that to PDF. I'd love it if someone has found something better.


"Better" is highly subjective but I just thought that I should note that if you're using here "on my computer" as opposed to iPad, you can do that on the iPad too if you're browsing the web on it.

Open web page, switch to readability mode, select print from the share sheet, unpinch on the page thumbnails to zoom them to full screen, open share sheet again and save the PDF in another app.

It's probably the best hidden feature in iOS.


I'm also looking for something like this as well.


I don't know if this really matters when it's horrible vs slightly less horrible...

It's like you pay hundreds of dollars for a textbook on a subject that hasn't changed in generations, and it's filled with pictures and diagrams and asides and any other layout doodadery their software can muster, but when you get to the exercises it's a pig's breakfast.

I remember my physics textbook in college was almost $200 ($200 twenty years ago!), I'd grind out the answer with a fair degree of confidence, check the key... wrong!? Then after banging my head against it for hours and giving up, the professor would tell us the next day that the book was wrong.

Next year, we had differential equations. Smaller book, older book, more words, fewer pictures--clear as a bell! Probably learned more physics in a semester of differential equations than a year of physics. Good books make a difference. Unfortunately, the physics book was the rule rather than the exception.


I collect textbooks as a hobby. It amazes me to no end how the textbooks have changed in the last 120 years. It's especially fascinating to look at math and engineering books from the "Apollo program generation". One thing that sticks out is the huge amount of text that guides the student in building up a deep mental picture and lots of thought-associations in all of these technical books. Somehow after the 60s this approach that is fairly consistent going back a 100 years suddenly is replaced with books that feature a ton of pictures and turn into 'trick and exercise' books until they completely explode with color and small text snippets in the 90s. I have my suspicions that the earlier textual approach might have had its merits. Not sure if anyone has done a comparative study on the effects of organizing text books and their long term effectiveness


My guess is that this is related to spatial memory. A lot of memorizing techniques somehow use space to anchor memories on; eg the old Greeks used to walk down the city’s main street while rehearsing speeches, and anchoring topics spatially onto the buildings.

A textbook is not exactly a street you are walking down, but it does have a certain physical place for every topic, and our brain can anchor it there, like „let me see, differential equations are in the last third.. ah there is this other topic, I know that diff equations come right after that“.


You've conveyed the exact problem I have with ebooks for any kind of technical reference. I read novels in ebook formats and have no problem with there, but after trying several O'Reilly and other publishers works I just found somehow unable to take in the information I was reading. Quickly scanning through to look something up is just impossible and built-in search functions are just miserable.


This is a major problem for me when reading digital material, especially if not on something like a PC. On the comuter I can at least Ctrl+F for the part I'm after.


I have noticed a similar problem. Our company started to offer information in "wiki" format instead of traditional manuals, but I still prefer manuals and get confused quite quickly on the wiki. I think it's because the hyperlinked nature of the wiki makes it harder to remember where things are.


The fourth reason is that some things can't be measured? That seems suspect. I can think of two seemingly obvious inferences from this study that were not mentioned.

1. Digital devices offer more distractions because unlike a book, you also get a slew of other apps (and the internet) at the touch of a button to distract you. Even if you are iron-willed, an OS update will pop up and break your concentration from time to time, a physical book will never present anything other than what it has already printed for you.

2. Books can be written on. I have a Kindle and I can't imagine reading something like Skiena's Algorithms book on it because the effort to take any kind of useful notes far exceeds that of a physical book. You can write in the margins, comment, highlight, all of which helps solidify your understanding. Kindles and iPads may have those things, but they are likely limited in fashion and not nearly as low of an effort to produce as with a book (unless of course it's rented for the semester and you're prohibited from writing in it).


Most of the devices out there could be equipped with write-on feature should the owner install required app for it. I'm a monthly subscriber to Adobe Creative Cloud and I must say Adobe Acrobat DC is the only reader that you'll ever require. You can do almost anything that is digitally possible using the app. I can even write Javascript over my PDF documents.


To expand upon your second point, I use a note 3 primarily: it has a digital oen built in. I almost never use it, as there is no unifed way to make notes in margins etc.


The idea that scrolling may be jarring enough to hamper reading fits my experience. When I scroll, it doesn't feel like just my browser has to repaint the whole webpage, but it also feels like my brain has to reconstitute the structure of the page via a kind of inverse-repainting, just so that I can reorient my attention, before I can resume it.

In other words, if I

- have a (semantic) pointer to, say, the last word on a line

- am maintaining just the single last word I read in my short-term memory/register

- scroll and then have to look for the line I was just on before I have reoriented myself

then it feels like I have to do a kind of mechanistic attention-interrupt/syscall that locks my conscious interpretation of the text's meaning until I have returned to the index of the text that I was just at. I guess that also explains why sometimes, when I am simultaneously trying to reflect on the text while scrolling, I am significantly less able to do so fluidly, as if there were some underlying deadlock, and more often than not have to repeatedly attempt finding the next line..

But if you hold a book in your hands, there is much less variation in the 'streamed/online/', structural form of the text. More or less, all that my brain knows it needs to anticipate is page turning. It can figure out how to cancel out my hand movements, background visual information, surroundings, etc. from my conscious experience because that's what we've evolved to be able to suppress from our attention.

Maybe, then, computer file viewing UIs that have page-flipping skeuomorphisms are less attention interrupting, because they would avoid these interruptions being done more than one time per page/pair of pages?

Link to the mentioned paper: http://www.co.twosides.info/download/To_Scroll_or_Not_to_Scr...


I feel the pagination method demonstrated here is advantageous in that regard, eliminating vertical motion while allowing to see parts of two "pages" at the same time:

http://www.magicscroll.net/

I would love to have that on my ebook reader, may need to hack that together some time to try. I dislike switching back and forth between two pages as is sometimes necessary; in this regard, this even seems better to me than a regular book.


I tend to find there's uses for both physical and digital textbooks;

- Physicals you can spread out, highlight stuff, visually search much fast when you DON'T know exactly what you're looking for, and you can also re-sell them when you're done.

- Digital weighs nothing, is cheaper, you can ctrl-f if you DO know what you're looking for, and often come with tools to bookmark/highlight etc.

Ideally if I'm dropping $100+ on a textbook I'd like to get access to both. If I'm going to a class I'll take the digital one, if I'm sat at home doing research/writing/reading then I'll use the physical one. Also I'm incredibly vain when it comes to my bookshelves, I aim to have enough books for an in-home library by the time I retire.


So I wanted to have a look at the studies they did. One would cost me $36 dollar to see, the other $42 for 24 hour access and $102 for 30 days access.

tl;dr you don't want me to read your research.


I didn't see anything about eink screens in that article except a mention that they exist.

They claim the cost of scrolling is the issue, which is something that I've not seen on an ereader. Page refreshes are a different animal to scrolling, despite the (potentially) distracting flicker they are deterministic: one press is one page. Scrolling is a more analogue interaction, scrolling by one page requires more focus than pressing a button once.


This doesn't really seem to hold much water. For one, the study was done on college undergrads, a non-randomly selected group who have crossed a certain bar for basic comprehension (looks like the researchers are from the U of Maryland, a major university, so you can expect that the students on average will have well above-average reading comprehension compared to the rest of the world).

On top of that, as a former K12 educator, the tools matter far less than the teacher implementing them and the fidelity of execution, very little of which seems to be explored by this study. I don't think digital texts or computers in classrooms are a panacea for what ails our classrooms or that digitizing textbooks is even that exciting when it comes to EdTech -- it's just taking a 19th century tool and digitizing it. This study, however, does not effectively demonstrate that either medium is better than the other, but the Ed world is in desperate need of strong research in that regard, specifically in the efficacy of EdTech in the classroom.


Assuming the discrepancy cannot be solved by simply carrying around a notepad to write with whenever you are reading something you want a deeper understanding of, the digital medium offers many benefits in my opinion that make it better overall.

I cannot stand reading on a white background for long periods of time. If I had to deal with a white background I simply would not read as much. Being able to change both font size and type is also useful because publishers do not always make a sane choice for you.

Above all, I think price is the best reason. You might be able to get away with charging $100+ dollars for a printed book but you cannot do that with printed books, therefore book prices have to come down.

Even if there actually is a loss in comprehension when actively reading and not just passive reading, the overall benefits of reading more whether its because you can now buy more books due to the lower prices or because you can change the color/text to suit your taste has to outweigh the benefits offered by printed books.


I found these bullet points from the article pretty insightful:

> - Reading was significantly faster online than in print.

> - Students judged their comprehension as better online than in print.

> - Paradoxically, overall comprehension was better for print versus digital reading.

So with digital reading, you feel like you've learned more than print, but you've actually learned less. This seems pretty dangerous.


> This seems pretty dangerous.

It sounds pretty much like the Internet as a whole.


On the note of the internet as a whole displaying this, there was a study a while ago which found "searching the Internet for explanatory knowledge creates an illusion whereby people mistake access to information for their own personal understanding of the information."

http://doi.apa.org/getdoi.cfm?doi=10.1037/xge0000070

(I first heard about it through the You Are Not So Smart podcast:https://youarenotsosmart.com/2015/11/25/yanss-063-how-search...)


> In our academic lives, we have books and articles that we regularly return to. The dog-eared pages of these treasured readings contain lines of text etched with questions or reflections. It's difficult to imagine a similar level of engagement with a digital text.

Is it? I read nearly exclusively on my kindle for exactly the opposite reason. I find it much easier to keep highlights and notes, then quickly return to them. And the note taking technology on the kindle is crude. Imagine if it was an _actually_ good experience? If note taking were easier (typing is painful). If the data were free (to be shared with other services). If it were easy to connect with others taking notes on the same topics, at the same time? If clicking on an image of a map made it interactive. There are so many possibilities, most of them untapped. I miss reading things on paper. But if our technology were to improve to half of its potential, I'm not sure I would.


Have you really tried to research that beyond the Kindle? Look at new products from Google and Microsoft or aimed at the legal market. There are great handwriting notes systems out there.


How big was this study? Did they test how well the students performed when they had to search for information?

They say that the students read much faster on the screen. What if they just slow down a bit?

The textbook industry is corrupt and will believe or promote anything to try to hold on to profits.

Wasting all of that paper and making people lug around a bunch of heavy books is asinine.


A big plus that is still kind of yet to be realized is the increase in utility of notes taken on a device. I like to jot notes in the margins of books and papers while I'm reading, but I almost never go back and look at them. Every once in a while I'll end up searching trying to find where I wrote my note, and usually can never find it.

Recently I have started using Apple Pencil, Apple's Notes app and iBooks to read and jot down ideas. Apple's Notes app already supports searching for handwritten notes, and I hope that soon iBooks can support searching for handwritten notes in PDFs. These apps combined with Spotlight really increase the value of notes + a collection of books/papers, as it turns your device into kind of a personal database.


This is a halfway decent article from Business Insider.

I find myself 50/50 on this issue. When I need cutting edge info, or niche info, I typically read it on a screen.

When I need offline info, or low power info, or simply a different aesthetic for some reason, I love a nice book. Especially for older info.

Surprisingly, discovery of info is pretty boundless and fun at a large University library, because books are sorted by topics. I don't need to endlessly query Google for the most authoritative resources.

Personally I really feel we need both sources of info. Both types of print have pros and cons.

I don't know if I "perform" better with one type of print though.

"Better" is very subjective, and when I was in college in 2010-13, all of my tests were written paragraphs/essays. Totally subjective.


For me it’s the medium itself. eBooks are ok if they’re short or fiction, but for heavy duty reading, I need a wide spread, and I need to be able to annotate and flick through fast, either to preview or jump to another section. Can’t do all that on a digital device.


I believe it. Learning how to operate a machine to control what gets displayed is such a distraction, in and of itself. Endless diversions and digressions, even if the devic has no internet. Procrastination just explodes exponentially.


This doesn't terribly surprise me, from my own experience. I either print academic journal articles or subscribe to the physical issues, because I found I never fully retained things I read on a screen, either desktop or iPad.


Likewise...

Personally, I think that the addition of tactile, flipping around, lack of distractions, etc... all the little bits add up to a more "immersive" learning experience from books.

It strikes me as an offshoot of an article recently that said that simply having a phone in the same room as a person decreases their ability to focus.


Why are we 10 years into Kindle's evolution and the renderer still does not draw pages exactly the same way every time you load the same page (paginating forward vs. paginating backward, at the same font size)? I have to expect that this will reduce spatial-visual memory where people remember what position a figure or text had on a page versus a better renderer (PDF, though impractical on small screens) or a physical book and I'd like to see a study which distinguishes this effect.


This study does suggest that we are doing web development all wrong and that browser functionality is exacerbating this, instead of scrolling we could be doing something like this: http://www.creativebloq.com/html5/create-page-flip-effect-ht... or using any number of similar solutions in jquery.


Hard nope.

I don't have any research on this, but ergonomic concerns that apply to e-reader devices doesn't necessarily apply to desktop/laptop browsers.

Personally, I find scrolling short-length content much better than having to transition screens. For longer reads, I set my ebook app to paginate. A tacky page flip effect only adds an unwanted distraction.


As others have mentioned I would assume distractions have something to do with it. Whenever I need to learn a new language for work I always opt for a paper copy of a book, and other than photography books those are the only physical ones I have purchased in the last 10+ years. New frameworks obviously I go with a screen as that material changes pretty rapidly, but just baseline getting started with a language, physical book works best for me.


> There may be economic and environmental reasons to go paperless. But there's clearly something important that would be lost with print's demise

The argument put forth in the article is fundamentally flawed. They're assuming that "screens" has a fixed meaning, to mean what it's like now.

But we're actually at very early stages of reading content off screens, and there's a lot of scope of that experience to change in the future. Better displays, better ways to interact with the content, better ways to annotate the content, better ways to deal with distractions on the device, etc etc.

Maybe in the end we'll discover print is definitively better, but we are currently a long way from being able to make that claim.


Seems like there is a deeper discussion going on here. Not only Print Vs Digital, but also open educational materials Vs "History of the World version 324".

I personally prefer printed materials for extended reading, but it is really just a matter of taste. So if we see a study which says "Printed text books are better", it should really add "For SOME PEOPLE". Give students a choice! Give parents a choice!

I recall buying two copies of a 120 dollar book just so my son would not have to lug its 5kg back and forth each day from school. The sheer amount of weight students have to carry is ludicrous. Open educational materials solves so many of these problems.


I'm a software developer and I still find I prefer print over screen, both when engaging in field-specific study or just simply reading for pleasure.

Most of the free tutorials I use are found on websites though so that's how I do most of my learning.

When it comes to tried and tested texts like Pragmatic Programmer, Effective Java, Web Application Hacker's Handbook etc. I will always buy the hard copy textbook and forego the use of the eBook.

I had a Kindle Paper White at one point and while I used it a fair bit when travelling, I still preferred stocking a bookshelf with hard copies for reading at home.

Something about the experience of flipping through pages makes the whole process that much smoother for me.


Physical vs digital copies offer different advantages, and for someone who's serious about mastering the material, it probably makes sense to consider having both.

For overall comprehension, my feeling is that the advantage of physical books is related to spatial memory, and seems related to "memory palace" techniques for memorization. I can physically recall pages of books I've read many years ago, but I really don't get the same thing from a digital copy.

Being able to search within digital copies is a clear advantage. The markup/review software and document management system also makes a huge difference.


Perhaps because screens have endless distractions whereas textbooks do not.

Personally, I prefer to read a paper book any day. It feels infinitely softer on my eyes, and it's just more pleasant of an experience to me for whatever reason.


Overall I would take that study very lightly. They basically took a cohort of student that did not have to read anything meaningful until then. In highschool they may have had some text and some work to do on a laptop, but the bulk of it was paper based. They were also trained to highlight sentences instead of taking meaningful notes.

Train the next generation to mostly use digital and that small study will become a time capsule, which would incidentally be a better outcome that what it is now, i.e. an attempt to generalize a conclusion based on an oversimplistic experimental setup.


I was skeptical about the claim in the title of the article to begin with. Point three and four in the article makes me even more uncomfrotable (for reasons that others have explained much better), and the article leaves a lot to be desired.

A quick Google Scholar of "difference between screen and print in learning" gave me two results that immediately stand out. The first article[1] (2013, n = 72, 10th grade students, reading comprehension of texts between 1400-2000 words, print vs. PDF on computer screens) that the BI article seems to corroborate. The second article[2] (2013, n = 538, university students, textbooks that are learning material for exams, print vs. digital but device type and format available from the abstract) suggests that there is no statistically significant difference between print and screen.

Digging deeper, I found another one[3] article (2015, review/opinion based on existing research), which questions format, design, country and culture amongst other things—some of which have already been questioned in the comments.

The first thing that I find disturbing aboutthis article is that I'm not even trained in the field of education and I could find a lot of information in the literature that seems to suggest that the BI article is highgly opinionated and underpowered.

The second thing that I find disturbing is that the authors of the paper in question themselves wrote that BI article and make sensational assertions with such confidence that is, in my opinion, obviosuly flawed. It's already hard to forgive a reporter sensationalising research results that are not the whole picture, for the authors themselves to do it seems so casually and carelessly seems to be a step up and is, unfortunately, increasingly popular.

[1] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0883035512... [2] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360131512... [3] https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-01207678


I can attest to this. I need big pages that I can lay flat on my desk and scribble on with a pencil. Kindle or an LCD screen just doesn't cut it for academic reading.


I like print books with a website offering errata, and some minimalist recorded lectures on the material, like Gilbert Strang writing on a blackboard to further give insight to the book's material.

Even with pdf-tools in emacs, navigating a PDF is still too much wasted time compared to flipping pages plus I have to stare at a screen for hours. The SICP texinfo copy I read being an exception where it was the only time I preferred the digital copy to print.


As a student of Science/Mathematics, I often make the most out of my E-books by writing out the exercises/problems/principles on my notebook and repeating the process (mostly for the Mathematics). I think the flexibility that E-books offer regarding it's digital existence is the pillar of my bias towards eBooks.


Yeah, no shit.

On one hand you have large screens that emit a huge amount of light, posing a huge strain on eyes.

On the other hand you have tiny screens, too tiny to display anything remotely useful, in black and white, and slow to update.

Ebooks for learning will not take off completely until we'll have larger, faster, cheaper e-ink displays.


... or rather until people are desperate enough to take advantage of the interactive medium. A comparison books and thei e-equivalents without taking advantage of the different mediua is actuallyleaving me flabbergasting for the right word.


Nothing about not being able to run other apps/multitask with a book? When i read a book, i cannot turn to page 123 to see who is online or get notifications that i received an email.

Less distractions, more focused, more effectiveness; doesn't really require a study in my opinion.


No students learn from visuals, demonstrations, examples, comparisons, interactive content. Shoving a students head into a dry, dense volume of endlessly tasteless and monotonous text is the problem we've always had, screens or not


Emotion and memory are connected. And emotion is connected with perception and pleausure of senses. All this connections was knows from many centuries in the yoga and meditation practice


It's interesting that students thought their comprehension was better when reading from screens, rather than paper, when in fact the opposite was the case. What might explain that mistaken perception?


It'd be interesting to go into more details:

- what if it's e-ink?

- what if it's paginantes rather than scrolled?

- what if there are multiple screens?

- what if it's a very large screen?

Etc.

There must à factor that matters most than others


What if there isn't any other app (Whatsapp, Slack, Facebook, ...) running next to it :)


It would be interesting to learn if it is a casual dependency or correlation also with respect to these factors


But do we need research or study to confirm this? We are community of lifelong learners so we should know better.


Yes, even if you Intuit something or know it from experience, it's valuable to have thus level of certainty through a carefully conducted study. Convincing someone your intuition is true is a lot harder than pointing to the research


maybe the screen is secondary, on a computer it is way too easy to get distracted especially for young learners comparing to a real paper-format book?

our brain might adapt to searching instead of deep-thinking from now on, using all abstracted data sets from big-data-somewhere, which also means, we will lose control and the world will be taken over by AI instead


Ok, suppose this is true, why? It sounds like such nonsense to me, there must be confounders




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