Is Your Learning Style Related to Your eBook vs. Print Book Preference?

I love, LOVE, finding new ways to read and engage with books. I have written articles about devices and convinced people to buy them, and I still tout them on a regular basis. On that note, you may be surprised to learn that I almost exclusively read print books.

I adore bookish apps, and I will not travel without my iPad or Nook (and sometimes both, because – let’s face it – a Nook is a lot lighter than an iPad when it comes to holding your arms up to read), but about 87% of the books I read per year are in print form (and about 10% in audio). I have a confession to make: reading from devices makes it hard for me to pay attention to a story the same way reading it from a printed page does. I’ve tried to apply logic to this – as a former teacher with a good amount of experience and study in education and human development, I am well aware of the different types of learners. Theories on learning styles abound when it comes to retaining information via print vs.via audio, but not when it comes to the printed vs. digital page. The only hypothesis I can come up with is that reading a printed page is the closest way of interacting with one’s reading – so those of us who are kinesthetic learners (people who learn best from doing rather than just seeing or hearing) may have an easier time with printed books than digital.

Though many people can fall into more than one type of learning (I would be a visual and kinesthetic learner), we usually have a very clear style of learning that we do not gravitate to. For instance, I am so strongly not an auditory learner that I often actually have trouble fully listening to people. If I am not making eye contact, or have not been specifically asked to listen, I can have an entire conversation with someone and not remember most of (or any of) it.

How does this relate to reading? When reading a print book, my body has to be fully engaged: holding up the book, spreading the pages, turning the pages, flipping back through pages to be reminded of information (thus not only letting me know where I am in the book, but also allowing me to flip back through the pages (easily) to remind myself of names, places, and dates), etc. This seemingly slight interaction forces me to keep my concentration on the page. When reading from a device, I am only responsible for holding up the device and slightly moving my finger (to lightly press down on the button – or side of the device – that turns the page). This allows my attention to wander in a way it can’t when I am having to work harder to engage with a medium. But, wouldn’t the need to make more of an effort to look back through the pages of a book (when using a device) help me engage more if my learning style is kinesthetic? Possibly, but — and this is mostly a personal reason — stopping to make the effort needed to look things up in an ebook breaks the rhythm of my reading, so I almost never do it; therefore I often continue even when forgetting who certain characters (or what certain references) are.

Now here’s the big but: When traveling, bringing the number of books I prefer to pack is not an option. So, I allow myself to bring one print book, and the rest need to be downloaded to one of my devices (this is where my 3% of ebooks are read). There is no doubt that ereading devices are worthy for such a purpose, even for those of us who don’t use them often at home. I’m grateful to have not only a nice library, but a bookstore at my fingertips on such occasions. So I will be keeping my devices (yes, both of them).

They are also potentially very useful for students. Even though we haven’t had these virtual sources of print materials around long enough to have a good grasp on how well students will retain information from them in learning environments, it is most certainly worth finding out how effective they will be. Will the benefit of not having a torturously heavy backpack on one’s shoulders outweigh (excuse the pun) the benefit of being able to look at more than one page of a textbook at a time? Will different types of learners mean schools need to provide all types of education tools (tactile as well as digital)? (To those of you not familiar: the educational system in the United States is neither exactly rolling in dough, nor is it typically a high priority of sitting politicians–from either party, though, of course, there are exceptions). Providing multiple selections for students to use would be a big stretch that will most likely not be widely available for quite a long time, if ever.

In schools around the country (including private institutions), and in classrooms from preschool through high school, they have started implementing Smart Boards (big screen computers on the wall of a classroom that allows a teacher to do her lessons with virtual props). Textbooks are being offered in ebook form, and we already know that books required for English Literature classes are offered through regular booksellers in ebook form. Students are using their laptops instead of notebooks in college classrooms, and lessons can be taken via the Internet as well as in the classroom. Will students thrive or suffer from these changes in our reading and learning norms? We can speculate all we want, but we honestly don’t know yet. And today’s teachers have big decisions to make on what technology they bring into the classroom and which they want to keep out (I know I did). I’m hopeful that classrooms from preschool through grad school will continue to offer a myriad of ways for students to get their information so that we have graduates with the greatest amount of retained knowledge (not just a great appreciation for expensive equipment), and a plethora of ways of obtaining it.

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Wallace Yovetich reviews an eclectic mix of literature spanning from graphic novels to classic literature on her book blog, Unputdownables. Follow her on Twitter: @BookishWallace

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