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Traditional textbooks vs. digital 

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As the new generation of college students head off to begin their learning, the ways that coursework has been taught for generations must confront the technological resources that are available today. One particular issue that sits at the forefront of these discussions is the issue of textbooks. While students today have grown up on tablets and laptops as part of their regular educational experiences, many of them begin to wonder what value, if any, textbooks have in their educational programs. Although this is an understandable reaction, there are several factors to consider when deciding between digital and traditional textbooks.

Bite-Sized Chunks of Information

Many students wonder why textbooks are still considered reliable. This is especially true considering that some states, such as California and Florida, require all of their textbooks to be made available in digital format. However, a 2014 study conducted in Australia and published in the Journal of Cogent Education found that textbooks present smaller chunks of information at a time and allow the student to better understand the material. Unlike digital formats, the familiar format of traditional textbooks prompts students to take breaks between paragraphs and pages. These natural break-ups in the text allow students to absorb the information they’ve just read before going on to the new information.

Speed vs. Comprehension

When investigating the matter of traditional textbooks versus digital materials, BusinessInsider noticed a very big discrepancy between speed and comprehension. While students reported that they were performing better when using digital textbooks, their actual performances were much better when they used traditional print sources. Students’ comprehension was especially better when they were examining sources longer than one page. Research conducted in 2009 and published in Human Factors describes the disruptive side effects that endlessly scrolling on a digital device can have on comprehension. This effect is believed to be responsible for the greater amount of comprehension that students experience when reading traditional texts versus digital ones.


When it comes to cost, traditional textbooks have that as a strike against them. Digital formats are typically much cheaper. However, as long as instructors insist on keeping traditional textbooks as part of their curriculum, there are ways to reduce the out of pocket expense of buying a textbook. Websites such as BooksRun allow students to sell, buy, or rent textbooks. Typically such websites can save the student a lot of money compared to the price that students might pay in their college bookstore.


Although the digital age is definitely playing a role in our educational system, most of the available research does not support throwing out traditional textbooks entirely. Instead, there are unique advantages to including both traditional and newer forms of learning. While this may be cost prohibitive at first, it is through the digital landscape that prospective students will save money.

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