Is Paper Mightier Than The Computer When It Comes To Learning?

Is Paper Mightier Than The Computer When It Comes To Learning?

Back in the good old days we used pen and paper in classrooms. They were the essential learning tools. Now it’s commonplace to see students take a laptop to class, tapping away to take notes. But which method is superior when it comes to studying? A new piece of research commissioned by Canon claims to have the answer.

Computer vs typewriter picture from Shutterstock

Printer vendor, Canon, commissioned Galaxy Research to conduct a survey on over 500 Australian high school and university students to find out if they study better on paper or online on a computer. A whopping 93 percent of respondents said they have experienced problems studying online with over half highlighting temptation to check social media as one of the key distraction.

Around 39 percent said they found it hard to focus when studying online while 23 percent admitted they struggled to remember what they learned online unless they print out the information and read it on paper. The research also touched on how top performing students preferred the notes on paper method.

I generally take these kinds of studies with a grain of salt, especially ones sponsored by vendors with a vested interest in the results that are in their favour. ‘Printing out notes is better for studying’, said the printer vendor. Do you see the problem here?

Having said that, I am one of those people who prefer to print out documents to read the words on paper. I’m not exactly sure it’s actually a better way of absorbing information but it does give my eyes a much needed break from staring at a monitor. In that regard, I can’t totally pooh-pooh the results.

Here are the key research findings in a neat little list for you:

  • Over half (52 percent) of Australian students are tempted to check social media during study periods
  • Just under half of all students (47 percent) claim to get easily distracted by messages and emails coming in while half (52 percent) admit they get bored with study and start checking other sites.
  • Females are more likely than males to print off notes, highlight and write comments than just write notes by hand (35 percent compared to 21 percent of males).
  • Males are more likely to find it hard to focus on the study online (39 percent) and are more likely than females to be tempted to play a game or two online when they are supposed to be studying (39 percent compared to 19 percent of females).
  • Almost nine out of ten (86 percent) students printed off something to help them study such as course notes (62 percent), articles they have found online about the topic (45 percent) and pictures/images (31 percent).
  • 87 percent of students mark-up their printed notes in some way including: highlighting important parts (68 percent of all students), underlining important parts (45 percent) and adding hand-written notes to the margins to help them remember important facts (42 percent)

What do you think of the Canon research findings? Do you prefer taking in information through paper or by computer? Let us know in the comments.


    • Hi there!

      The study wasn’t available online when I wrote it last night. It’s up now so I’ll whack the link in.



  • I’d be interested to see this broken down further from printed notes to written notes. I’ve always found writing out the information (especially in an engaged classroom environment) to be more supportive of learning. But this is from personal experience, everyone has their own preferred method of learning.

  • I find that with eBooks I’m more inclined to skim; I’ll read a page and only be able to give you a rough idea of what I just read. For non-fiction, paper is preferable. Hand-writing notes is best by far, as you’re forced to push the information through your brain to summarise it effectively.

    This is part of why it’s extremely annoying when a lecturer or speaker tells you not to write everything down because they will give you the slides afterwards. You lose the learning gains from writing it down, and you don’t have the slides to make notes against. It is absolutely the worst way of presenting data; basically anything that is not on the slides themselves is probably lost to eternity.

  • “Study commissioned by company that makes printers and papers finds that printed paper documents are superior. More news at 6”.

    That being said, I do greatly prefer reading on paper, especially non-fiction. The contrast and resolution is still superior to even the best screens, and being able to flick through pages instantly without waiting for pages to load makes it much easier to find the information you need.

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