Learning: Paper or E-books?

What are the differences for reading and learning from e-books versus paper and traditional books?

Online or E-Book


  • Uses the technology available.
  • Back lit better for older eyes.
  • Ease of accessing resources.
  • Ease of storage and back-up (cloud).


  • Skepticism regarding online and digital resources.
  • Computer vision syndrome.
  • Screen related sleeplessness.
  • Multi-tasking or task switching – can humans really do this?
  • Too easy to scroll through the content and not take in the content.
  • Need to change from just an electronic copy, to an engaging resource. incorporating engagement, visuals and virtual reality.
  • Publisher restrictions impact on software to view the e-book.
  • Device related distraction (i.e. social media).

Paper & Books


  • Note taking (highlighting), breaking down larger reading into smaller ‘chunks’.
  • Flicking pages, touching the paper and focusing on difficult sections helps focus or mind on certain topics.


  • Reluctance to embrace the technology.
  • Environmental responsibility.

Personal Experience

I tried to complete a course just using e-resources and some aspects worked fantastic. All resources I saved and organised onto an ipad and laptop as back-up, then annotated onto journal e-articles.  I am not the most organised with notes and resources so this was an additional bonus. Environmentally friendly on the paper front as well. E-books were accessible and easy to read online, but difficult to take electronic notes with some software. Then when it came to writing the assignment, I found having to flick between electronic notes, articles and other resources so time-consuming and frustrating. I missed having a pile of notes and articles, flicking quickly back and forth to develop my discussion and supporting discussion. So a mixed experience, but it definitely tested my preference for paper.


Reading has plenty of beneficial aspects for mental capacity, empathy, relaxation, motivation and physical health. At present we may mix our lives with reading from phones, tablets and laptops, with a Kindle or Nook thrown in but can the hands on, dexterity aspect of settling back with a good book be beaten? Paper wins (for the moment).

Keywords: E-books,  learning,  reading,  digital literacy.


Myrberg, C. & Wiberg, N., (2015). Screen vs. paper: what is the difference for reading and learning?. Insights. 28(2), pp.49–54. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1629/uksg.236

Bushak, L. (2015) E-Books Are Damaging Your Health: Why We Should All Start Reading Paper Books Again. Medical Daily

Guo, S. (2016) Why smart kids shouldn’t use laptops in class. Wonkblog.