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Textbooks vs. Tablets: Which is Better for Students?

Textbooks vs. Tablets
Textbooks vs. Tablets: Which is Better for Students?

Will textbooks one day be an ancient artifact that students learn about on their tablets?

Although textbooks will never require a battery to enjoy, Bill Gates thinks so.

In February 2019, Gates caused a stir when he said that textbooks are becoming obsolete. "Thanks to software, the standalone textbook is becoming a thing of the past."

Is he right?

In this post, we'll look at the tablets vs textbooks debate, analyze trends in digital usage by students, and explore school communication technology options.

Tablets vs. Textbooks: Does It Even Matter?

The tablets vs textbooks debate has been going on for quite some time, and with more and more technology entering the classroom, this debate won’t end anytime soon. The questions this leads many people to ask are, "Are tablets the best learning tool for students?" and "Should they be replaced by textbooks?" There is no denying that tablets are incredibly useful and brilliant tools. We use them as extensions of ourselves to communicate with family and friends, organize our schedules, find new information, and navigate day-to-day life. But when placed in a classroom, how well will students be able to learn?

The debate as to whether more school districts should make the digital leap is met with fierce opposition from publishers and other tech naysayers, who see the value of printed textbooks as unrivaled by tablets.

Let's take a look at the tablet vs textbooks pros and cons.

Pros & Cons of Tablets

Pro #1: Easily Adaptable

Students today learn and engage differently with technology than previous generations. Tablets allow students to feel empowered by the learning process by playing to their strengths. It also allows them to learn how to use computers for the rest of their lives. Across many industries, computers power much of what we do professionally, so introducing this as an educational tool will help set them up for future career success.

Pro #2: More Capacity

One tablet can store more books than a student will ever need for the entire duration of their education. Tablets can also store homework, quizzes, and tests – eliminating heavy loads from students’ backpacks and desks.

Pro #3: Access to the Latest Information

Tablets aid teachers in providing their students with the most accurate and up-to-date information possible, allowing lesson plans to be updated in real-time. Publishers have been criticized for making minor amendments to text volumes and charging schools top dollar for new editions. Once textbooks go digital, the print costs will be eliminated, resulting in textbook savings of as much as 60% for school districts.

Con #1:  Cost

The initial investment in technology can be steep for some students and schools. Not all educators or families can afford them, and the student experience should not be based on what people can or cannot afford. Everyone should have access to learning materials. Along the same lines, tablets have high curb appeal and run the risk of getting stolen if mistakenly left in a public place.

Con #2: Overexposure

Overexposing students to blue-light screens is one of the bigger risks of computer-based learning. It can be difficult for students to separate “computer time for learning” and “computer time for playing”, thus, leading them to spend time browsing the Internet or on social media sites when they should instead follow a lesson plan. This could ultimately affect their ability to concentrate on the task at hand.

Pros & Cons of Textbooks

Pro #1: Strategic Learning

When analyzing the benefits of textbooks or tablets, one of the biggest advantages is that textbooks are professionally curated documents. They have been organized in the best way to present the information in a logical order and are fact-checked by academic professionals.

Pro #2: Better Absorption

It is common knowledge that handwriting notes allow for better absorption in remembering important teachings and lessons. This experience is very similar when reading a typed book vs on a computer screen and is said to play a key role in the learning process.

Con #1: Outdated Information

The biggest disadvantage of textbooks is the use of outdated information when the latest version is not yet available. Great teachers can combat this by providing additional pointers to provide the most up-to-date data, however, this approach runs the risk that not all relevant information will be relayed.

Con #2: Cost

On the flip side of the cost debate, it can be argued that students and schools will pay more in the long run for printed textbooks. Because there are no printing or shipping costs associated with content in tablets, electronic versions may be less expensive than printed textbooks.

Why Research Says Textbooks Are Better Than Tablets

In recent years, some interesting research has shed more light on the tablets vs. textbooks debate.

Researchers Patricia A. Alexander and Lauren M. Singer Trakhman found that while students preferred digital text to printed and believed they learned better with digital, the opposite was true.

  • Students overwhelmingly preferred to read digitally.
  • 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.
  • The medium didn't matter for general questions (like understanding the main idea of the text).
  • But when it came to specific questions, comprehension was significantly better when participants read printed texts.

Alexander and Trakhman point out that there are indications that the speed with which students read texts affects comprehension. And, since students naturally read digital texts faster than print texts, the difference could be associated with a learned trait that could be adjusted.

Because we tend to skim more on the web, we train ourselves to read faster in that medium. So, it could be argued that students can be retrained to read digital texts more methodically to increase comprehension.

Trends in Digital Usage Among Teens & College Students

One thing that can't be argued is that teens and college students are using technology more than ever before.

  • Fully 95% of teens have access to a smartphone, and 45% say they are online 'almost constantly.' Pew Internet
  • In the mid-2010s, the average American 12th-grader reported spending approximately two hours a day texting, just over two hours a day on the internet — which included gaming — and just under two hours a day on social media. That’s a total of about six hours per day on just three digital media activities during their leisure time. American Psychological Association
  • Between 2012 and 2018, the percentage of teens who use social media more than once a day more than doubled from 34% to 70%. Statistia
  • Seventy-two percent of teens say they check messages as soon as they wake up, but so do almost 60% of parents. Pew Research

That said, how can schools leverage today's tech to connect with students, parents, and staff in a meaningful way?

Technology for School Communication

While the jury is still out on the tablets vs. textbooks debate, schools have easier choices regarding other technology uses.

In the statistics above, we saw that teens check their messages first thing in the morning and spend an average of two hours a day texting.

Our own research has shown that contacts read 98% of texts sent from our platform, and 90% of texts are read within three minutes of receipt. Compare that with a 21% open rate of emails; you can see just how powerful text messages are.

For schools looking to communicate effectively with students, parents, and staff, mass text messaging beats all other communication channels handily.

If you've yet to explore bulk text messaging for your school, we have a resource that will give you some great ideas of how you can use Short Message Service (SMS) texting to make your school better. Our free Text Message Marketing Playbook for Schools, Colleges, and Universities includes 16 types of messages for educational institutions.

These include:

  • Special Event Reminders
  • Severe Weather Alerts
  • Emergency Notifications
  • Surveys
  • Class Supply Lists
  • Volunteer Communications
  • Educational Tips
  • And more!

While the conversation on why textbooks are better than tablets continues, one sure thing is the effectiveness of text marketing in increasing critical performance categories like engagement and conversion rates while decreasing opt-out rates. Start for free today and learn more.

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