E-books or Printed Books: Is it for Digital natives to Decide?

Innovations in mobile technology have recently made available to online users digitized texts which are important reading adjuncts in the learning context. This study investigated the impact of using the electronic reading format on selected E-106 (World Literature 1 & 2) students enrolled during the first semester of 2015-2016. An informal survey was conducted among 16 group leaders from three sections to determine on which format they read the novels assigned to their group. From the 14 who opted for e-books, four were chosen for the focus group discussion, which consisted of questions pertaining to factors that prompted their choice of format, perception about the course as influenced by e-book use, and changes in reading behavior as prompted by their reading experience. The findings indicate that the primary reason for choice of e-book was the convenience that e-books offered. The students interviewed credited e-books as having contributed to their positive perception about the course. In terms of changes in reading behavior, no significant change occurred as a result of e-book use.


The question of whether traditional printed books will soon be replaced by e-books has been the subject of speculation in the face of e-books’ growing popularity among digital natives, also referred to as millennials who have been immersed in a technologically rich environment. According to analysts, electronic books will revolutionize the publishing industry and impact education in positive and “yet-to-be-determined ways” (Shelly, G., Gunter, G. & Gunter, R., 2010, 278). Further, they argue that the e-book revolution is just beginning to impact the way people live, teach, and learn.

Digital technology has ushered in choices for teachers—even those from the digital-tourist category, but mostly for the digital natives whose technological savvy has enabled them to appreciate the unique features and advantages of digitized texts. Advances in mobile technology have led to electronic books with “accompanying sound, animations, and interactive hot spots” that have become irresistible to readers (Willoughby, 2015, 105).

The growing support for and reliance on digital technology as well as assistive technologies (tablets, iPads, and other digital devices) which address the current literacy needs of students is indicative of a new learning paradigm. Learning with new technologies, specifically those Internet-supported sites that promote the concept of ‘anytime and anywhere learning’ has become the trend. Innovative technologies and Internet-supported sites encourage diverse learning styles and broaden access beyond the confines of the classroom set-up (Underwood & Flint, 2015).

As Underwood & Flint (2015) have argued, digital devices such as e-books need to be made available to enhance curricular goals and promote student learning. To support their claim, research evidence has shown that when embedded into tablet devices, digitized texts promote not just language cognitive skills but other cognitive skills including deciphering texts and problem-solving skills.

Another added feature of digitized texts is their built-in ability to lend themselves to the scaffolding approach that teachers would do well to use in the classroom (Bitter & Legacy, 2009). They argue that technology encourages the scaffolding approach to learning specifically as it concerns problem-solving activities. Further, they assert that teachers can scaffold teaching strategies by inserting test questions, exercises, journals, and survey in digitized teaching tools. As teachers start banking on the capacity of digital technology, students have more potential for more active student-led learning in a technology-rich environment which puts a premium on improved teaching strategies and learning outcomes.

It is worth noting, however, that the value of e-books as educational tools has been questioned even as they are regarded as crucial reading adjuncts. It can be argued that there is a generational divide in the way e-books are perceived. For those uninitiated into the world of digital technology, the concept of reading is limited to traditional printed books and seeing young people spending hours on the tablet or e-book readers may be perceived as equivalent to playing video games and therefore an utter waste of time. However, despite the negative connotation sometimes associated with e-books, some experts claim that embedding them in instructional materials would optimize the learning context (Underwood & Flint, 2015).

This study is different from other studies that have taken the usual approach of comparing and contrasting e-books with printed books. Instead, the study explores more intrinsic factors that have influenced students’ preference for e-books. While this was the primary objective of the study, specific concerns were also brought to the fore:

  • The impact of the teacher’s laissez-faire approach to reading assignments on the students’ preference for a particular reading format
  • How the group leader’s intervention came to be the definitive decision
  • Correlates of reading habits

This study was aimed at finding answers to the following questions:

  1. What factors determined students’ choice of reading format?
  2. In what ways did e-books influence students’ perception about the course?
  3. Were there changes in students’ reading habit as a result of e-books?

This study was informed by various studies on a similar topic.

Rodriguez (2010) tried to make sense of the academic reading habits the 21st century learner and argued that in the end, it all boils down to personal preference. Despite the convenience and inexpensiveness of ks, what matters according to Rodriguez is one’s appreciation for the act reading. In the same article, Rodriguez cited that according to a recent US y, the average number of books read by e-book readers is 24 compared to the 15 books read by traditional readers. Further, she cited the advantages of both printed and e-books, arguing that both reading formats have their distinct advantages, the most noteworthy of which is the tactile sensation readers have when using the traditional printed format, which does not have the ‘scroll up and down’ feature. In addition, users of printed books can recycle their favorite books for other bookworms who prefer the traditional printed format. On the other hand, e-books require no physical space. This feature allows readers to build their “featherweight or virtual library” that they can bring with them wherever they go.

Larson (2012) examined the use of electronic books and electronic reading devices among pre-service teachers in literacy education, specifically as aids to reading comprehension. The study presented the results of her survey of pre-service teachers who used electronic books to teach reading. It also explored how electronic reading devices increased engagement among students learning reading and sought to examine the growth of educational technology in the classroom context.

Willoughby (2015) examined whether ABC eBooks boost engagement and learning in preschoolers. The study explored the benefit of paper alphabet books compared to alphabet e-books in terms of alphabet skills. It involved three groups composed of 30 four-year-old children. Each group was assigned to three variables: printed alphabet book, alphabet book in electronic format, and the storybook control. The findings suggest that children in all three conditions improved in terms of literacy skills, but no significant differences between conditions emerged.

Abram (2010) examined the education issues associated with choosing between traditional printed books and e-books. The article explored the pros and cons of printed books and e-books, citing the obvious advantages of printed books, among them: packaging, font, their shareability, convenience in terms of requiring little or no maintenance (i.e. updating the software or charging the battery). E-books’ advantages include customizable displays, reading support for e-readers with reading abilities and a wider range of choice and access. Further, Abram envisions more revitalized libraries, better educational support, and new and improved standards for reading software.

If you answered yes to all four questions, then you have correctly identified it as an example of academic writing. What could be other reasons why the text is classified as academic writing?

Below is a KWHL Chart which stands for What I Know; What I Want to Know; How I can Learn; and What I Learned. The acronym has been slightly modified to stand for What I have Known All Along (stock knowledge); What I Wish I Knew (hoped-for knowledge); How I Intend to Learn (process of learning); List of What I Learned (actual learning).