04:45 PM

What Do College Students Prefer – Print or Digital?

by Marisa Bluestone, Communications Director

A common question the AAP Higher Education team gets asked is whether students prefer print or digital learning materials. While there is no clear-cut answer, the latest Student Watch survey suggests the answer is print … for now.

While print has a slight edge, as digital components are increasingly being added to courses preferences are showing signs of shifting. Recently released data compiled by the National Association of College Stores (NACS) for the 2015-2016 school year confirms what we’re hearing from our members about student preferences. The NACS data show that 40% of students identified “print textbook” as their preferred method for learning. The second most preferred method was “print textbook with a digital component” (26%).

Learning materials span more than just print and print with a digital component. There are several other methods of learning that involve digital, including “digital textbook” (7%) and “digital textbook with additional digital component” (3%). When you combine all of these digital preferences, more than one-third of students (36%) prefer learning with a digital option.

“Digital” can mean many things, from the .pdf of a traditional textbook to a more interactive system that allows for interaction and personal feedback. Learning companies are moving more towards the later with “adaptive learning” and “digital platforms” that helps students focus on the areas where they most need help. The tools include calendaring functions, quizzes, games and features that allow them to work directly with other students and their professor.

A 2015 study from the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) seems to confirm that students who use digital learning systems find them helpful, with 80% saying that it was “valuable in helping them to achieve their key learning outcomes.”

“Learning companies acknowledge there is a range of preferences, and will often provide both print and digital options for students so they can choose what works best for them,” said David Anderson, Executive Director of Higher Education at the AAP. “While the method of learning has changed, you still get the same great content through either of the options or a combination of both.”

This is the first in a series of views exploring learning materials in Higher Education. In our next blog, we’ll explore the reasons why students prefer print and digital formats.