Textbooks beat out e-books for faster learning | Print |
Written by Kelly Schweitzer   
Tuesday, 27 March 2012 11:20

As exam season approaches, a study suggests that choosing a textbook over computerized materials is the fastest way to learn information.

The U.K. study found that students who read from physical textbooks rather than e-readers or computers grasp the information faster and can apply the knowledge better.


People who study from a physical textbook learn faster than those who study from an e-reader, reported a U.K. study.

While there was no proven difference in academic performance from participants who studied from either format, the results suggest that those who read from physical books reach a deeper level of knowing at a more expedient rate than those who read from computer screens.

“What we found was that people on paper started to ‘know’ the material more quickly over the passage of time,” said Kate Garland, the study’s author, as reported in Time magazine.

“It took longer and [required] more repeated testing to get into that knowing state [with the computer reading, but] eventually the people who did it on the computer caught up with the people who [were reading] on paper,” said Garland.

She said people either recall information through episodic memory, where they only remember the information by recalling the context in which they learned it, or semantic memory, where they actually know the information and don’t need to rely on context to jog their memory.

“Knowing” knowledge is better than depending on mental cues, Garland said, because information comes to mind faster and more easily than drawing on why or how you remembered it in the first place, but it is episodic memory that gradually leads to semantic memory.

Those who study from computers need “repeated exposure and rehearsal” of the material whereas textbook readers have more spatial cues to elevate their sense of memory, Garland said.

Remembering whether something was at the top or bottom of the page, or the left or right side of a two-page spread, are associations that cue the reader’s memory during recall, and allow the information to more quickly form in the reader’s semantic memory, she said.

Things like turning a page or circling a word are lost on e-readers.

“The fact it takes you longer to find information in a book is not necessarily a disadvantage as it forces students to go through additional material which may help you better understand the subject,” Rony Amaya, research scientist for Communications Research Centre Canada, told thedailyplanet.com.

However, while computers and e-readers may take people longer to internalize the information, there are rational reasons for the use of e-readers in studying.

“I believe that in the future, e-book versions of textbooks will outstrip print versions in both functionality and popularity,” Randall Kozak, coordinator in the information and technology programs department at Conestoga College, told thedailyplanet.com.

Kozak cited reasons such as the fact that younger generations are already used to reading from a monitor and there’s the ability to link to other websites and documents.

Plus, they are cheaper and make for easier distribution of materials, he added.

“E-readers are versatile, convenient and effective,” Amaya pointed out, “but some students still have difficulties adapting to this new way of learning and search tools make it so easy to go to the information you need that it may bypass the basics required to fully understand a concept … I still feel textbooks are the best way of retrieving information.”

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