Paper Versus Screen Learning

As online learning, e-textbooks and digital note-taking gain popularity, schools face new pressures. The main challenge? How to balance old-school tools, like pen and paper, and new technology, like e-readers and laptops. As educators seek a balance between old techniques and new technologies, they should evaluate the benefits of paper learning as well as the benefits of screen learning. That way, they can determine when technology can be helpful and when it can be harmful.


The Benefits of Paper Learning

Paper-based learning may seem outdated. However, numerous scientific studies prove its benefits. In an article for Scientific American, Cindi May asserts that taking notes by hand may be the secret to retaining information. May cites three studies by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer. According to May, they found that students with handwritten notes understand and apply the concepts in their notes better than those students use laptops. The two researchers theorize that when students physically write out notes, they use different cognitive processes. The processes used when writing by hand help them understand and retain the information more successfully than when they type the notes.

Similarly, scientists have found students can also benefit from reading books on paper instead of on an e-reader. In an article for The Guardian, Alison Flood reports on a study by Stavanger University professor Anne Mangen. Mangen shows that people who read a 28-page story on paper understood the chronological order of the plot better than those who used a Kindle. She believes that when readers turn the pages of a physical book, they see how the pages on the left increase and the pages on the right decrease. This, Mangen theorizes, helps them remember the chronology.


The Benefits of Screen Learning

After reading the benefits of paper-based learning, one may assume that technology inhibits learning. On the contrary: when well-integrated, technology enhances students’ learning experiences.

A study by the Alliance for Excellent Education and the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education showed that technology greatly improves the educational performance of at-risk, low-income students. Their report explains that low-income schools often use technology in a “drill and kill” manner. “Drill and kill” describes a teaching method in which students memorize information and are tested on that information. The report suggests that screen learning benefits the students the most when it is used for creative projects and not memorization. Ultimately, technology can be used to close the achievement gap between low-income students and affluent students.

Technology also helps students collaborate with their peers. For instance, if students need to create a presentation, they can use Google Slides. Google Slides allows them to work simultaneously and see each other’s slides in the process. Technology helps students perform research for their project and easily compile their findings into a presentation.


Overall, students will benefit from a balance of both paper learning and screen learning. By using technology in the classroom, students learn to see technology as a tool for creativity and collaboration. Students also need to develop technology skills, since future jobs often require them. However, taking notes by hand and reading physical books helps them retain information. By considering the benefits, educators gain a better understanding of when each type of learning should be used in the classroom.


Words by Melissa Lawrence