College Students Still Prefer Traditional vs. Digital Textbooks

Today’s college students are very technologically savvy, but digital textbooks have yet to take off. There are some advantages to having your course textbooks delivered to you via your Kindle or iPad, but the trend we are seeing is students prefer the good, old fashioned traditional textbook they can hold in their hands vs. digital textbooks.


One of the problems with digital textbooks is the books you need may not be available for your particular device. There is yet to be any kind of universal standard for delivering books electronically. You may have a Nook or Kindle e-reader but find that the textbook you want to download is not supported by your specific device model.


In 2011, Alex Thayer of the University of Washington conducted a study on e-reader use for academic purposes. Each student was given a Kindle DX loaded with books in the fall; by spring, just under 40 percent of them had stopped using the reader. Why? Usability issues. Part of the problem, says Thayer, is that e-readers don’t allow for ‘cognitive mapping’, the process of using cues to remember where you saw the information in the first place. Navigation and search functions are also notoriously poor on most e-readers. With printed textbooks, students can quickly find specific page numbers or quotes. This quick navigation is critical in a classroom setting when a student must be able to find the answer to participate meaningfully in a classroom discussion.


Having to stare at another screen to read your digital textbooks may be a bit too much for some. Even the slightest glare on a screen can be off-putting and could lead to unnecessary eye strain. if you spend a long period (more than two hours) staring at a screen—on an e-book, a smart phone, or a laptop—you could suffer from what is sometimes called computer vision syndrome (CVS), a repetitive-stress condition characterized by some uncomfortable side effects, including headaches, blurred vision, and eyestrain.


Digital is not always the cheaper option. The cost of the digital devices can range from $70 to over $500.  Add to that the cost of renting or buying the digital textbooks, and buying used hardback books instead suddenly becomes the cheaper option. In the long run, the cost evens out, but you have to remember what the long run also means-your device may not support the new digital textbook formats. I think we’ve learned this from the constant smartphone and tablet upgrades every year.

Portability and reliability

You really don’t want to lug around 20 lbs of books all over campus? We don’t blame you! Scan or take pictures of only the pages/chapters you’ll be discussing in class. Them you still have your trusted book back in your dorm room or apartment. If you lose your tablet, the power goes out, your battery goes dead, or your device breaks, you might find some comfort knowing you have the actual book.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *