By Claudia Wallis
My friend Joanne was packing her youngest child off to college this month and wrestling with a modern dilemma: Is it better to buy textbooks in digital form or old-fashioned print? One of her son’s professors was recommending an online text for a business course: lighter, always accessible and seriously cheaper ($88 vs. $176 for a 164-page book). But Joanne’s instinct was that her son would “learn better” from a printed volume, free of online distractions, and with pages he could dog-ear, peruse in any order, and inscribe with marginal notes. Her son was inclined to agree.
Many of us book lovers cherish the tactile qualities of print, but some of this preference is emotional or nostalgic. Do reading and note-taking on paper offer any measurable advantages for learning? Given the high cost of hard-backed textbooks, is it wiser to save the money and the back strain by going digital?