University students prefer print over electronic formats

The Academic Reading Format International Study reveals UK students prefer having course materials in print -- but some like the convenience of electronic formats.

University students in the UK strongly prefer having all their course materials in print format, according to a new survey. The UK survey is part of the Academic Reading Format International Study (ARFIS), which aims to identify students’ format preferences and behaviours when engaging with academic reading.

70% of UK participants strongly agreed, or agreed, with the statement ‘I prefer to have all my course materials in print format’.  For text books in particular, there was a clear preference for print, with 71% of respondents saying that they did not prefer electronic textbooks to print textbooks.   

At the same time, opinion was divided over the convenience of electronic formats. 25% of respondents agreed that it was more convenient to read assigned readings electronically rather than in print, while 27% disagreed with this statement.

Those who found electronic texts convenient focused on the benefits of quick access, portability, and the ability to manipulate the text. Those who did not find e-texts convenient described concerns around headaches and eyestrain from prolonged screen-reading, and distractions linked to the use of electronic devices.  Some respondents stressed that their preferences were linked to the purpose of the reading (for example hard copy for literature, and electronic for short form essays) or the place where they would be reading.

Higher levels of learning engagement were also linked to the use of printed materials. 52% of participants strongly agreed and 28% agreed with the statement “I can focus on the material better when I read it in print.” 42% also said they remembered information better when they read from printed pages.

The survey revealed a perceived difficulty associated with highlighting and annotating texts in electronic format, suggesting a need for training on the different digital note-taking apps. In response to this, LSE have started to promote support for note-taking apps through the Student Ambassadors for Digital Literacy Programme.

The UK survey was carried out in 2016, and involved 655 students from different institutions across the UK including the LSE and the Universities of Kent, York and Newcastle.  Most respondents were in the first three years of an undergraduate degree or studying for a Masters degree. The survey findings are discussed in detail by Juliana Rios Amaya and Jane Secker, Choosing between print and electronic… Or keeping both? Academic  Reading Format International Study (ARFIS)  UK Report (