For a long time the print textbook has ruled the classroom as the primary supplemental resource for study to support the instructor. That reign is waning as digital resources are now commonly used to supplement classroom instruction. There are people on both sides of the fence about whether digital resources are better or worse than print resources, and the jury is still out on this one. However, we are getting swept into a world of digital resources as learning options regardless.
Digital learning resources come in many varieties, and the vast array of choices is one key factor that makes it difficult to compare them to the traditional print textbook. For this article I’ll consider digital resources on a continuum and define them with the following categories:
- Category 1: e-Books
This category is commonly called an e-book and would include those texts that are simply an electronic version of a print book. When you go to a large online bookseller like Amazon, you often get a choice of a print book or an e-book version. A basic e-book and print text are pretty much the same in layout, design, and interactivity. There is minimal interactivity in a Category 1 digital resource. The primary distinguishing characteristic is the device the reading content is consumed on. A simple e-book is often optimized for a mobile device such as a phone or tablet. (I am reminded that there was a time in the late 80s when the 25 lb. Compaq computer I was using which had green type on a 6-inch black screen was considered a mobile device).
- Category 2: Supplementary Web Resources
Many current textbooks come as stand-alone print resources, but also have supplementary web-based resources. These additional web resources might be electronic glossaries, flashcards, videos, practice tests, games or some other learning activity designed to enhance the content of the print text. These resources are usually optional because the print book contains all of the primary material. The digital learning resources are there mostly as additional support to the print text.
- Category 3: Hybrid Models
Digital resources in this category go beyond optional supplements to the print text. They are an integral part of the product’s learning strategy. For example, there are instances where print text seems to have an advantage in learning and comprehension, such as long passages of complex text information. Other information may work better as a video demonstration. That content would be shown in the digital resource and not appear in the book at all. There is also a continuum of complexity in how extensive digital resources are. They often include content with multiple live links to other web resources, opportunities for social media engagement, podcasts, or any number of additional digital learning strategies. One thought about this category is that the combination of digital and print resources allows the student more meaningful choices in how they may interact with or consume the content.
So the question we always here is… Are digital resources
better or worse than print resources? Personal preference plays a big part in
that decision, but here are some key pros and cons to consider as you explore
digital resources to see if they are right for your class.
Pros For Digital Resources
- When principles of user experience design are used, it may be easier for learners with a variety of different learning approaches to access the content more easily.
- Rich interactive media provide more extensive options for presenting concepts as opposed to using text and static images only.
- Digital resources provide increased opportunity for retrieval learning (see Lesson Plans 02) through interactive exercises that provide instant feedback, produce sample quiz or flash-card-type study strategies, or similar methods of engaged learning.
- The interactive component often engages students more in the learning process than might occur with a static print text.
Cons For Digital Resources
- Extensive web resources may require the individuals to jump around between different content modules when consuming content and may not provide as much of a cohesive trail through the material.
- Many digital resources require an internet connection, so are not accessible when a web connection is not available.
- If long periods of reading text on a screen are required, such as with a Category 1 e-book, significant eye strain may occur.
- There is a temptation to become easily distracted with digital resources. The temptation to just quickly check social media accounts or browse other web resources can easily pull one away from the engaged study process.
The debate about print vs. digital resources is likely to continue for some time while we are in a transition period, and we are still defining and developing digital resources. However, the print vs. digital argument may be setting up a false dichotomy. Because there are so many variations in how digital resources are presented, we may not be comparing the same things. Ideally I hope to see a greater emphasis on the development of Category 3 products that incorporate print for what it does best and digital for what it does best.
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