09:55 PM

Print vs digital: understanding student preference

by Ally Garner, Policy and Communications Associate

Picture a student studying for an upcoming exam.

If you’re envisioning them surrounded by marked-up textbooks, you’re right about half the time. These days it's likely you'll see the student studying their course materials using their tablet, laptop or smartphone.

The most recent Student Watch data from the National Association of College Stores (NACS) indicated that students have varied reasons for preferring one format over the other.

The top reason students preferred traditional printed textbooks is they found them easier to study from. They also found them easier to navigate and to read. College students liked that printed textbooks had more value with the ability to sell the book back or purchase a used book for a discounted price.

The students that preferred digital learning materials found them easier to transport and appreciated a lower price. Digital textbooks being environmentally friendly was another reason that ranked high for support of digital.

Results show that student preference for print or digital is specific to the medium, but they also show that college students across the spectrum value educational resources that are cost effective. Respondents who prefer digital and those who prefer print listed affordability as important; with print it is on the backend being able to resell books and with digital it is on the front end buying digital cheaper at the onset.

Professors have their own reasons for emphasizing use of print or digital. Explaining more about how digital is helping in the classroom, Lynda Haas, professor of Rhetoric and Composition, University of California Irvine said: “I have more data about what my students don't know and what their strengths and weaknesses are. I know exactly what objectives they have the most trouble with and where they need more practice with concepts I am teaching.”

Numbers from the NACS Student Watch project demonstrated that professors have been a driving force behind students using digital resources. When instructors incorporated digital content into their classes, 93% of students reported using it for their studies.

The newest data shows that college students are open to learning on any format that is easily accessible, navigable, complements their in class learning and has a lower price point.

Today’s publishers are ready to give students the resources they want: “Higher education publishers are creating both print and digital textbooks that provide students and professors with quality content. Whatever way they prefer to receive their course materials, plenty of options exist. There are digital learning platforms that engage students with interactive elements, print textbooks that provide students with the information they need to excel in their studies and combinations of the two,”
David Anderson, AAP Executive Director of Higher Education

Learn more about the NACS data on print vs. digital material options.