Printing and the Home Learning Effect
The unexpected link between increased print volumes and home learning
Without Paper, Everything Stops
What happens when a country runs out of paper? For Sri Lanka (at present), students cannot take their all-important term tests. Affecting nearly 4.5 million students, education authorities across the country have postponed these tests indefinitely due to an acute paper shortage. Part of the continuous testing taking place throughout the academic year, the tests determine whether a student can move up to the next grade.
Considering mass digitization in education throughout the world because of the pandemic, why not just take the tests digitally? It would be easier to implement, and it would prevent millions of students from missing out on progression into a more advanced grade level. The problem is that, as of 2020, only 35% of Sri Lankans have access to the Internet. Paper is an essential tool in their education system; without it, everything stops.
Print and Sustained, Mindful Reading
Putting aside the necessity of paper in education, as highlighted by the Sri Lankan example above, we must also question its necessity from a learning perspective. Recent studies in Norway, New Zealand, and the US show better standardization results for paper versions of tests over their digital counterparts. And in the US, the negative effects of exam digitization can be felt among more vulnerable students—for example, those with a lower reading level, special educational needs, or who interact with English as a secondary language.
Several factors can be attributed to the results of this study. While print and digital mediums have roles to play within different facets of education, studies have shown that print is overwhelmingly required for sustained, mindful reading. This is also key for examinations. The texture of the paper, a tangible feeling in the student’s hand, helps focus the mind in a pressured environment, which aids comprehension of more nuanced exam questions. So, even if Sri Lanka’s students could take their exams digitally, would they be automatically put at a disadvantage? Research indicates they would.
Print Volumes and Home Learning
The pandemic has highlighted the importance of digital learning in ensuring education can continue outside of the school classroom. But, as with the study results surrounding print and assessment, digital learning does have some drawbacks when it comes to knowledge comprehension and overall performance. Keypoint Intelligence’s 2020 and 2021 Future of the Office studies discovered that 40% of respondents noticed an increase in printing at home due to home learning, with 61% of 2021 US respondents saying that their children’s schoolwork was the prime reason for their increase in print volume. Virtual learning environments and learning management systems require most of the assigned learning activities to be completed digitally, so why the increase in this duplication of work by home learners?
Deep Reading vs. Skimming
Aside from the occasional requirement to print schoolwork from a learning management system as part of the assigned task, the reasons for the increase in print volume lie in the benefits print can bring to learning.
A 2018 study published in the Education Research Review examined the reading habits of over 170,000 participants. They confirmed that comprehension of information was better when the participants read in print compared to the digital equivalent, particularly for chunks of text over 500 words. They also confirmed that “deeper” reading takes place when examining a text in print. Reading in digital mediums encourages “skimming” to take place, and so the brain is duped into believing it has fully understood what it has read when, in fact, it has only grasped some of the information.
Mapping Information From Print
Adding to this, print enables readers to have a sense of place when they read. It is far easier to visualize where you are in a book or on a worksheet using a physical copy rather than the digital one. From this sense of place, the brain can create mental maps of information, helping to increase overall comprehension and retention of the information.
To Doodle or Not to Doodle?
Marginalia—the act of annotating print—also supports active engagement when you read. Rather than just ploughing through the text regardless of whether you understand it or not, annotating slows the reading process down, enabling the reader or student to think, unpack, and digest the information presented in the text. Any information that might have been missed (such as specific nuances or supplementary knowledge) is more likely to be picked up this way.
Keypoint Intelligence Opinion
Print and digital technologies have many benefits and drawbacks in the remit of education. Home learning during the height of the pandemic has proven that both are necessary to ensure students are fully engaged with and getting the most out of their studies. The key to all of this going forward is recognizing that, while digital technologies help democratize learning and enable it to continue at any time and in any place, print still aids close, detailed work that requires in-depth understanding. Striking a balance between digital and print technologies will be crucial to ensure students feel the benefit of both as they transition back to full-time, on-site learning.
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