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Printed Paper versus Electronic Pixels – The Controversy Continues

A recent article reported that students at Brigham Young University preferred printed course materials to electronic course materials.

  • When students were asked if they preferred printed or digital course materials, 65% said they preferred print.
  • When asked if they learn better from print or digital course materials, 74% reported print.
  • When asked if they read digital files or printed them, 72% said they printed some or all of the materials.
  • Of those who printed, 44% said they use their own personal printers, 42% said they use computer labs, and 30% said they use open access kiosks.
  • When asked if they’re ever distracted by e-mails, social media, or web surfing when they use electronic devices to study course materials, 99% said they were distracted.

Around the same time, an article appeared based on HP research from San Jose State University students confirming the data. In this article:

  • 62% preferred print
  • 54% cited ease-of-use for preferring printed textbooks
  • 35% reported note taking ability when preferring textbooks
  • 33% said they would be willing to spend $80 more to buy the printed version

But for many people, a more important question than preference is comprehension. In other words, which one helps people retain better? The results here are controversial. For the printed book fans, there is an article based upon a Scientific American article which said that people understand and remember text better from paper than a screen. On the other hand, there are articles that have found the exact opposite.  One article entitled, “Eight Studies Show iPads in the Classroom Improve Education” talks about eight different studies which all found increased comprehension using iPads.

The only conclusion we can reach is that more studies say that college students prefer printed course material than electronic course material.  We could assume that this preference is the result of these children growing up with, and developing studying habits using printed books. But this could change radically when today’s youngsters, who grew up with iPads, go to college.

Which do you prefer to read – paper or pixels? Which do you prefer to study?  Which do your children prefer?

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About Howie Fenton

As an NAPL Senior Consultant, Howie works with commercial and in-plant print shops and industry manufacturers. Consulting directly with printing companies, Howie specializes in the areas of operations and digital production, with a focus on workflow, customer service, estimating and prepress performance and benchmarking, as well as budgeted hourly rates. Howie’s experience and expertise positions him to coach companies on their investment priorities such as web to print, pdf workflows, variable data printing and digital equipment. As a follow-up to that, Howie works with companies to streamline their operations and train their staff to sell the value of the digital technologies. As one of the leading in-plant printing experts, Howie performs in-plant audits and customized surveys that benchmark financial performance, analyze workflow issues, and measure productivity, customer satisfaction, and in-plant competitiveness. His evaluations help clients increase efficiency and reduce costs, and his services are used to benchmark financial and operational performance and to demonstrate or improve that performance. A frequent speaker at industry events, he has written five books and two books on digital printing and variable-data printing and is a regular contributor to several industry publications.

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