3 Benefits of Learning with Print and Paper

Lessons Learned About The Importance of Paper and Print

I was alerted to a wonderful column in USA Today recently by Two Sides NA. The article was written by Tal Gross, a faculty member at Columbia University. In it, he shared his strong conviction that, putting it simply, students learn better on paper. And best of all, he shared evidence to back it up.

The article, published as Earth Day approached, certainly took what most would see as a “contrarian” approach. It is fashionable to decry the use of paper today (in spite of the proven sustainability of forests). But Gross, an assistant professor of health policy and management, minced no words in expressing his belief that the use of paper in teaching produces far more beneficial results to society as a whole than one would ever suspect listening to all the digital influencers.

Gross certainly agrees with the importance of ecological practices, including the wise use of paper – replacing things like receipts, bills and other high-volume forms with their digital counterparts for statement processing. He even accepts that recycled paper towels are a smart choice.

Teaching And Learning Are Better With Paper

But Gross draws the line when it comes to his students and classroom. He passes out paper handouts and expects his students to take notes by hand. He believes that paper helps us think, and makes his students (and all of us, for that matter) more productive, receptive, and attentive.

In his experience, students learn more when reading and writing on paper than when doing the same on a digital device. But he also cites the results of several research projects that strongly support his point. Three different studies verify the power of paper in helping learning take hold.

1. Reading Comprehension Improves With Paper

In one study, researchers in Norway randomly assigned 72 students to read a passage either on paper, or on a computer. Those reading it on paper scored significantly better in comprehending what they read.

The researchers speculate that somehow the physical nature of seeing words laid out on paper helps readers better remember specific passages. The fixed position of words on a hand-held document may make a more lasting impression than its fleeting electronic counterpart.

2. Taking Notes On Paper Aids Learning

Gross also references another widely-cited study that assessed student learning based on whether they took lecture notes on paper, or on laptops. Here again, the results demonstrate that the physical act of writing information down on a pad or notebook seems to improve the learning. Students who did so demonstrated superior comprehension of lecture material to those typing those notes on their computers.

So the evidence grows. But Gross isn’t finished, citing still another study.

3. Students Who Doodle Do Better

A researcher in England conducted a study in which she had a group of students listen to a recording.  Half the students were allowed to doodle while listening, while the rest were required to sit still.

The researcher sprung a surprise memory quiz on the students once the recording was finished. You guessed it: the students who doodled performed better than those who had not. Hmmm – there’s that pen-on-paper thing again.

Gross sums up his article by saying that the whole environmental issue is a cost/benefit analysis. And that even if there is a cost to using paper, the educational benefits that result from using pen on paper outweigh any negatives.

Paper Powers Minds

Those of us in the industry understand the use of paper is far greener than many would think – and that the alternatives carry hidden environmental costs that are seldom considered. But there are few things more important than learning, and if paper helps learning happen, I am certainly on the professor’s side here.

Where do you come out on this issue? Do you get an extra satisfaction from writing things down on paper? Do you think it helps you remember those things more easily than if you had typed them into a computer file? I’d like to hear your opinion, so give me a call.  I think it’s rather ironic. If we really want to make our planet sustainable and keep our environment healthy, it’s going to take a steady supply of well-trained young minds to guide us through it. And it appears those young minds learn better on paper.

Share this article: