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E-books offer cost advantage, but retention may suffer

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Posted at 12:32 PM, Aug 29, 2022

Laptops and tablets are replacing the classroom library.

Almost 60% of teachers say they’re now using e-books in the classroom.

Parents are using technology at an even higher rate.

It’s a decision that can save money.

“We would go broke trying to keep enough paper books for our family,” said Virginia Clinton-Lisell, an education researcher and professor at the University of North Dakota.

She noted that a subscription to an online library could be relatively cheap at a time when an average children’s book costs $10.

E-readers also give students access to resources that can’t be found in a paper book.

“If they come to a word they don’t know, they’ve learned, ‘Oh, if I take the mouse and hang over the word, I can get a pop-up, and it’ll pronounce the word for me,’” said Tanya Marshall, an educator and curriculum designer who operates The Butterfly Teacher.

But technology does have downsides.

Several studies indicate that information from e-books may not stick like paper books.

“Reading from paper is more efficient,” said Clinton-Lisell. “You can understand more in the same amount of time than reading from screens.”

In one study, teenagers who read paper books had test scores about three percent higher than their peers who read mainly e-books.

“Screens tend to be assisted with light, superficial tasks, like texting and checking social media,” said Clinton-Lisell. “When you’re holding a device that you can read from, it can also, in your mind, be a toy.”

Clinton-Lisell said some preliminary research indicates the retention issue may be more pronounced in textbooks or other “required reading.”

It is less noticeable when people are reading for pleasure.

Marshall, who works primarily with the lower grades, said she’s noticed that today’s readers have a bit more trouble maintaining focus.

Before e-readers, kids “needed to have more stamina to stick with it and get through a full story,” Marshall said. “Now, there’s an expectation that we’re going to fly through it.”

Most experts agree that parents should choose paper books when they can.

However, since that isn’t an option for some parents, the most important thing is to ensure your child is reading.

“It doesn't matter if it's an e-reader or a printed book,” said Marshall. “If the kid thinks it's boring, if it has nothing to do with what they like, they're not going to read it.”