The enduring power of print for learning in a digital world



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Patricia A. Alexander, University of Maryland and Lauren M. Singer, University of Maryland

Today’s students see themselves as digital natives, the first generation to grow up surrounded by technology like smartphones, tablets and e-readers.

Teachers, parents and policymakers certainly acknowledge the growing influence of technology and have responded in kind. We’ve seen more investment in classroom technologies, with students now equipped with school-issued iPads and access to e-textbooks. In 2009, California passed a law requiring that all college textbooks be available in electronic form by 2020; in 2011, Florida lawmakers passed legislation requiring public schools to convert their textbooks to digital versions.

Given this trend, teachers, students, parents and policymakers might assume that students’ familiarity and preference for technology translates into better learning outcomes. But we’ve found that’s not necessarily true.

As researchers in learning and text comprehension, our recent work has focused on the differences between reading print and digital media. While new forms of classroom technology like digital textbooks are more accessible and portable, it would be wrong to assume that students will automatically be better served by digital reading simply because they prefer it.

Speed – at a cost

Our work has revealed a significant discrepancy. Students said they preferred and performed better when reading on screens. But their actual performance tended to suffer.

For example, from our review of research done since 1992, we found that students were able to better comprehend information in print for texts that were more than a page in length. This appears to be related to the disruptive effect that scrolling has on comprehension. We were also surprised to learn that few researchers tested different levels of comprehension or documented reading time in their studies of printed and digital texts.

To explore these patterns further, we conducted three studies that explored college students’ ability to comprehend information on paper and from screens.

Students first rated their medium preferences. After reading two passages, one online and one in print, these students then completed three tasks: Describe the main idea of the texts, list key points covered in the readings and provide any other relevant content they could recall. When they were done, we asked them to judge their comprehension performance.

Across the studies, the texts differed in length, and we collected varying data (e.g., reading time). Nonetheless, some key findings emerged that shed new light on the differences between reading printed and digital content:

  • Students overwhelming 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.

Placing print in perspective

From these findings, there are some lessons that can be conveyed to policymakers, teachers, parents and students about print’s place in an increasingly digital world.

1. Consider the purpose

We all read for many reasons. Sometimes we’re looking for an answer to a very specific question. Other times, we want to browse a newspaper for today’s headlines.

As we’re about to pick up an article or text in a printed or digital format, we should keep in mind why we’re reading. There’s likely to be a difference in which medium works best for which purpose.

In other words, there’s no “one medium fits all” approach.

2. Analyze the task

One of the most consistent findings from our research is that, for some tasks, medium doesn’t seem to matter. If all students are being asked to do is to understand and remember the big idea or gist of what they’re reading, there’s no benefit in selecting one medium over another.

But when the reading assignment demands more engagement or deeper comprehension, students may be better off reading print. Teachers could make students aware that their ability to comprehend the assignment may be influenced by the medium they choose. This awareness could lessen the discrepancy we witnessed in students’ judgments of their performance vis-à-vis how they actually performed.

3. Slow it down

In our third experiment, we were able to create meaningful profiles of college students based on the way they read and comprehended from printed and digital texts.

Among those profiles, we found a select group of undergraduates who actually comprehended better when they moved from print to digital. What distinguished this atypical group was that they actually read slower when the text was on the computer than when it was in a book. In other words, they didn’t take the ease of engaging with the digital text for granted. Using this select group as a model, students could possibly be taught or directed to fight the tendency to glide through online texts.

4. Something that can’t be measured

There may be economic and environmental reasons to go paperless. But there’s clearly something important that would be lost with print’s demise.

In our academic lives, we have books and articles that we regularly return to. The dog-eared pages of these treasured readings contain lines of text etched with questions or reflections. It’s difficult to imagine a similar level of engagement with a digital text. There should probably always be a place for print in students’ academic lives – no matter how technologically savvy they become.

Of course, we realize that the march toward online reading will continue unabated. And we don’t want to downplay the many conveniences of online texts, which include breadth and speed of access.

The ConversationRather, our goal is simply to remind today’s digital natives – and those who shape their educational experiences – that there are significant costs and consequences to discounting the printed word’s value for learning and academic development.

Patricia A. Alexander, Professor of Psychology, University of Maryland and Lauren M. Singer, Ph.D. Candidate in Educational Psychology, University of Maryland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Has the print book trumped digital? Beware of glib conclusions



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What will an eBook be 20 years from now? What will a book be?
Voyagerix/shutterstock

Nick Earls, The University of Queensland

While just a few years ago, headlines predicted eBook supremacy and the demise of the paper book, that’s now reversed. They’re now saying the Kindle is clunky and unhip and paper books are cool and selling well as eBook sales crash. But are today’s claims any more accurate than those of 2012? The Conversation

The latest round of headlines was triggered by UK Publishers’ Association figures noting a fall in consumer eBook sales of 17% in 2016, while physical book sales rose 8%. This statistic seems straightforward enough on the surface, but it pays to go deeper.

Mainstream media have long been in the habit of relying on figures from publishers’ associations, retailers’ groups and Nielsen data, but the industry has changed. While these measures are accurate, they are only accurate in terms of what they measure, and they represent far less of the industry than they once did. They are no longer a proxy for the industry.

A recent history of eBooks

Amazon’s Kindle was launched in November 2007. Barnes & Noble followed with their Nook in October 2009 and Kobo with their eReader in May 2010. Apple’s launch of the iPad in January 2010, meanwhile, introduced a non-specialist device that gave a pleasing eReading experience. US eBook sales rose 1260% between 2008 and 2010. By early 2011, US advisory group Gartner reported that industry researchers were predicting a 70% annual growth rate for eReader sales globally.

In February that year, the REDgroup, the parent company of Angus&Robertson and Borders in Australia – chains responsible for 20% of the country’s book sales – went into receivership. Retailers across the industry in Australia were noticing a downturn. After 5% growth in 2009, Australian book sales contracted slightly in 2010, then dramatically in 2011, with falls of 13% in volume and 18% in value, and significant falls continuing into 2012.

In January 2011, Amazon announced that, for the first time, it was selling more eBooks than paperbacks. According to Nielsen figures, US eBook sales went from US$69m in 2010 to US$165m in 2011, a 139% increase. They increased a further 30% in 2012 and 13% in 2013.

Nielsen figures, though, only record sales of books with ISBNs, something many independently published eBooks do not have. Despite not counting many eBooks, Nielsen still recorded sales as increasing, albeit probably at diminishing growth rates each year.

In January 2011, Amazon announced that, for the first time, it was selling more eBooks than paperbacks.
Artem Evdokimov/shutterstock

With increases in both average smartphone screen size and smartphone use, the 2014 to 2015 period marked another shift – the phone was becoming a significant reading tool. According to US Nielsen surveys, while the percentage of the eReading population reading primarily on tablets had increased from 30% in 2012 to 41% in 2015, the number of eBook buyers who used their phones to read at least some of the time increased from 24% to 54% in the same period.

Judith Curr, publisher of Atria Books, stated in 2015 that,
“The future of digital reading is on the phone. It’s going to be on the phone and it’s going to be on paper”.

Peak eBook?

EBook sales in the US, though, appeared to plateau at 2013 levels, according to Association of American Publishers figures, and then dipped early in 2015. In the UK, the Publishers’ Association reported digital sales for the year 2015 falling slightly and print sales growing minimally. “Readers take a pleasure in a physical book that does not translate well on to digital,” the Publishers’ Association stated, and declarations of “peak eBook” became commonplace. Those figures, though, do not tell the whole story.

As Simon Jenkins admitted in The Guardian last year when declaring that peak digital was at hand, the adult colouring book fad made a contribution to print sales in 2015. Unlike fiction blockbusters, sales of colouring books are almost entirely in print format.

In the case of the UK market, the £20.3 million generated by adult colouring books in 2015 matched the growth in the overall print market. Without it, the pattern of zero or negative growth seen in the preceding seven years would have continued. In the US, Nielsen reported that sales of adult colouring books surged from one million units in 2014 to 12 million in 2015. Australia was also part of the adult-colouring craze. Nielsen BookScan’s November 2015 Australian top 20 featured eight colouring books, each one of them outselling the most successful Australian novel.

The adult colouring book fad was a huge boon to print sales in 2015.
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Other factors were at work as well. Following the renegotiation of pricing between major American publishers and Amazon, eBook prices rose in the US Kindle Store in late 2014 and 2015. Until then, Amazon had pushed publishers to keep prices no greater than $9.99, and buyers had become conditioned to paying less than $10 for eBooks.

Publishers that increased prices above that mark subsequently recorded a fall in eBook receipts, and some identified higher prices as a factor. According to journalist Jeffery Trachtenberg, publishers viewed this pricing change as involving “some sacrifice, but they felt it was worth it to keep Amazon in check”.

The specific books published from one year to the next had an impact too. Some publishers noted that 2015 saw fewer “hot” titles. With nothing to match Frozen and the Divergent series, children’s and young-adult eBook sales fell 45.5% in 2015 in the US.

eReading growth not counted

While the Association of American Publishers’s figures are based on a survey of 1200 publishers and often seen as authoritative, the Amazon Kindle Store stocks many independently published titles and titles published by small and micro publishers not captured by the survey.

At the same time as the association was reporting a drop in overall eBook sales, Amazon, the retailer with the majority of the US eBook market, reported increases in sales in terms of both units and revenue.

And other avenues were opening up that facilitated continued growth in eReading that was not feeding into the statistics. Public libraries were lending eBooks and subscription eBook libraries were opening for business – Oyster in September 2013, Scribd the following month and Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited in July 2014.

While subscriber downloads earned an author readers and, in the case of subscription libraries, revenue, they did not count towards sales.

David Montgomery, CEO of publishing services company Publishing Technology, drew on these factors to declare last year that publishing had split into two markets, with a widening gap between them.

Self-published and micro-published authors, particularly those writing genre fiction, were pricing their eBooks much lower and claiming an increasing share of the market, particularly through Amazon, while large publishers were increasing eBook prices in a way that reduced eBook sales.

The subscription eBook library Scribd opened in 2013.
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This pattern has continued, and the rhetoric that pits one format against another appears to be continuing too. At the Digital Book World conference in January 2017, Nielsen presented 2016 data from more than 30 traditional US publishers showing a fall in eBook sales from 2015 to 2016 and hardback unit sales overtaking eBooks for the first time since 2012.

Despite their data being an estimate and covering relatively few publishers, Publishers Weekly ran its story on the presentation with the headline “The Bad News About Ebooks”. The week after the conference, the Sydney Morning Herald published a Bloomberg-sourced piece headed “How Print Beat Digital in the Book World”.

Association of American Publishers (AAP) data released in February 2017 appeared to confirm the decline of eBooks, with eBook sales for the first nine months of 2016 down 18.7% on the year before.

However, at the Digital Book World conference in January, other evidence was presented that attracted less media attention.
An analysis by the Author Earnings website (an aggregator and analyser of eBook sales data) identified that, outside the world of traditional publishing, authors who were self-published, independently published or published directly by Amazon imprints, had sold more than 260 million eBooks worth more than US$850 million in the US in 2016.

Total eBook sales by Amazon – which makes up 83% of the US eBook market by volume and 80% by value – rose by 4% from early 2015 to early 2016, at the same time as eBook sales recorded by the AAP were falling.

Self published authors are claiming an increasing share of the market.
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While no direct comparison exists for the UK market – where the Publishers’ Association reported a 17% fall in consumer eBook sales from 2015 to 2016 – 42% of eBook sales in that market are by self, indie or Amazon-published authors. This added up to 40 million of the 95 million units sold in the UK in 2016 – a percentage that is growing as the eBook market share held by the larger members of the Publishers’ Association falls.

The publishing industry has changed. It is no longer solely the domain of members of publishers’ associations and books with ISBNs that allow easy tracking and accumulation of data that appears robust but tells much less of the story than it once did.

Moving beyond the ‘format wars’

It is too easy to have our attention grabbed, and sometimes our biases or hopes confirmed, by an appealing set of statistics from an authoritative source, and to misunderstand what those statistics are measuring.

It is also too easy to fall into viewing the evolution in eBook and print sales solely through the prism of Amazon and its often public power struggle with publishers, and to be drawn too deeply into seeing the future of publishing as one format versus another.

While it is possible to speculate about the future trajectories of the eBook and paper book markets, many confident pundits have been wrong before, as new factors have emerged that have significantly impacted reader behaviour and sales patterns.

From the practical perspective of writers wishing to connect their work with readers, it is prudent to see both paper and eBooks as significant for any book-publishing project in the present and near future, and to develop strategies to meet both of them. It is also prudent to look beyond both platforms to another, one that had long been regarded as a peripheral player: audiobooks.

All we can be sure of is that the digital platform is still evolving. What will an eBook be 20 years from now? What will a book be?

Nick Earls, PhD Candidate in Creative Writing, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Reading with your children: proper books vs tablets


Nicola Yuill, University of Sussex

Most of us have an opinion about whether we prefer reading on screen or paper: but what difference does it make for children? The truth is that technology is now encountered from babyhood. Anecdotes abound of toddlers swiping their fingers across paper rather than turning the page, while parents and teachers express their fear of screen addiction as tablets introduce new distractions as well as new attractions for young readers.

Ofcom figures tell us that children’s screen use rises sharply towards the end of primary school (from age seven to 11) and in the same period, book-reading drops. Increasing screen use is a reality, but does it contribute to a loss of interest in reading, and does reading from a screen provide the same experience as the feel of reading on paper?

We looked at this in our research on shared reading. This has been a neglected topic even though it is clearly a common context for children when they read at home. It might be their regular homework reading of a book from school, or a parent reading them a favourite bedtime story.

Warming up

We asked 24 mothers and their seven to nine-year-old children to take turns – mother reading or child reading – with popular fiction books on paper, and on a tablet. They read Barry Loser: I am not a Loser by Jim Smith and You’re a Bad Man, Mr Gum by Andy Stanton. We found that the children’s memory for the descriptions and narratives showed no difference between the two media. But that’s not the whole story.

The interactions of parent and child were found to be different in the independent ratings from video observation of the study. When they read from paper rather than a screen, there was a significant increase in the warmth of the parent/child interactions: more laughter, more smiling, more shows of affection.

It may be that this is largely down to the simple physical positioning of the parent and child when using the different media, as well as their cultural meaning. When children were reading from a screen, they tended to hold the tablet in a head-down position, typical of the way they would use the device for solo activities such as one-player games or web-browsing.

This meant that the parents had to “shoulder-surf” in order to share visual attention. In contrast, when parents read to their children on paper, they often held the book out to support shared visual engagement, tucking the child cosily under their arms. Some children just listened without trying to see the book, but instead curled themselves up comfortably on the sofa.

Paper or pixels?
Megan Trace/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Keep taking the tablets?

Our research joins a growing list of studies comparing paper and e-books, but the answer isn’t a simple one. Shared reading is different to reading alone, for a start. And we may be interested in whether screen or paper makes a difference in how children learn to read, to understand, and enjoy reading. In short there are multiple perspectives to consider – developmental, educational, literary and technological – if we are to decide which medium is preferable.

Most studies have compared children at the earliest stages of reading, using paper books, e-books with audio and dictionary support to help less-skilled readers, and so-called “enhanced” e-books with multimedia, activities, hotspots and games.

Text with audio support helps children to decode text, and multimedia can keep a reluctant reader engaged for longer, so a good e-book can indeed be as good as an adult reading a paper book with their child. But we don’t yet have long-term studies to tell us whether constant provision of audio might prevent children developing ways of unpicking the code of written language themselves.

They think I’m reading; I’m playing Candy Crush.
George Rudy/Shutterstock

Re-design for life

There is also increasing evidence that adding multimedia and games can quickly get distracting: one study found that young children spent almost half their time playing games in enhanced e-books, and therefore they read, remembered and understood little of the story itself. But there is plenty of guidance for e-book developers on the what, where and how much of designing multimedia texts.

And that brings us back to perhaps the defining conclusion from our own study. Books versus screens is not a simple either/or – children don’t read books in a cultural vacuum and we can’t approach the topic just from a single academic field. Books are just books, with a single typical use, but screens have many uses, and currently most of these uses are designed round a single user, even if that user is interacting with others remotely.

We believe that designers could think more about how such technology can be designed for sharing, and this is especially true for reading, which starts, and ideally continues, as a shared activity in the context of close long-term family relationships. Book Trust figures report a drop from 86% of parents reading with their five-year-olds to just 38% with 11-year olds. There is a possibility that the clever redesign of e-books and tablets might just slow that trend.

The Conversation

Nicola Yuill, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, University of Sussex

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Print Books Vs Ebooks – Again


The link below is to an article that once again takes a look at the print versus digital books debate.

For more visit:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/suren-ramasubbu/paper-books-vs-ebooks-the_b_9890584.html

United Kingdom: Print Book Sales Fall


The link below is to an article that looks at falling book sales in the United Kingdom – no surprise there I wouldn’t have thought.

For more visit:
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jan/13/sales-printed-books-fell-150m–five-years