- Students are spending more time than ever before interacting with electronic information rather than printed content.
- Because there are pitfalls associated with digital learning, today’s educators must ensure that any technology-based learning strategy is coupled with a continued investment in print.
- Although younger consumers are undoubtedly technology aficionados, they are still quite open to printed materials—especially when it comes to learning.
- In the classroom, color-rich, personalized lesson materials that are printed and can be held in the hand are often more impactful than documents that are scrolled through and viewed on a laptop or mobile device.
By Priya Gohil
Autumn is most certainly underway—the creeping cold in the morning, the early drawing in of nights, and the familiar refrain of children flying out of the door on their way to school. Some things never change…but what is changing is an increasing reliance on digital technology in education. The bouts of forced homeschooling during the lockdown phase of the pandemic may be a fading albeit bruising memory, but they did accelerate the adoption of online learning tools and digital resources at the expense of paper-based educational materials.
Now that we’re navigating our way through another academic year, it’s clear that this trend will continue. As a case in point, my daughter’s annual knowledge organizer—which covers her curriculum content for the year—is no longer provided as a printed book like it was in the past. Instead, it’s available to view online and can be download as a PDF file. As the school year continues, my daughter will need to refer to this content regularly. Homework assignments are now provided online, and they must also be completed and submitted online. It might seem like there’s no longer a need for hard copy printed reports, reviews, or worksheets to be completed by hand.
The March Toward Digital
There are some convincing arguments to shift towards an e-learning base. Classrooms are increasingly going digital with an uptick in the use of Chromebooks, tablets, and other mobile devices. Traditional audio visual projectors and video displays are being replaced by interactive display technologies such as smart whiteboards that facilitate lesson delivery, assessment, and student collaboration. The electronic route is also more convenient for educators in terms of controlling output as well as the time required for lesson planning, delivery, and grading. As a result, students are spending more time than ever before interacting with electronic information rather than printed content.
As we all discovered during the lockdown phase of the pandemic, digital technology is vital to maintaining connectedness. The success of these tactics is open for debate, but for a short time in 2020, virtually all children were being schooled online and virtually interacting with their peers and teachers. Given the continued uncertainty associated with new COVID-19 variants and the possibility of additional public health measures to slow the spread of infection, remote learning in one form or another will likely play a continued role in children’s education.
Access and Accessibility
Understandably, schools want to adopt strategies that will enable them to deliver curriculum in the most effective and efficient ways. Technology-based tools and online learning management platforms are a means through which teachers can not only deliver resources (e.g., videos and interactive tutorials) but also communicate with their students and provide personalized materials that suit individual needs.
As many of us quickly discovered during the early days of the COVID outbreak, however, there are plenty of pitfalls associated with a digital-first approach. Throughout households in the UK, the pandemic exposed stark inequalities and the disparity of digital access. According to the Children’s Commissioner for England, an estimated 9% of families in the UK have no access to a laptop, desktop PC, or tablet at home. It’s not just a question of having access to a good quality device—it’s about having a reliable internet connection and being able to access a device as needed. This can certainly be an issue in large families if multiple users need to share a single device. Having access to a device is not the same as having adequate access to these devices to facilitate learning.
While it is true that government agencies on a global basis are spearheading efforts to furnish children with laptops and other mobile learning devices, there is still the question of whether schools are providing proper support so their students can make the best use of the technology. In addition, what about teachers—are they equipped and trained to deliver tech support for children who need it? Because of these challenges and a myriad of other reasons, print-based materials remain a critical part of the education industry, even in this digital age. Today’s educators must ensure that any technology-based learning strategy is coupled with a continued investment in print.
Print’s Enduring Appeal
Generation Z—loosely defined as individuals born between 1997 and 2010—has grown up surrounded by digital technology including the internet, mobile devices, and social media networks. Given this, you might assume that today’s digital natives prefer using electronic devices when reading and learning—but recent research suggests otherwise. Although younger consumers are undoubtedly technology aficionados, they are still quite open to printed materials—especially when it comes to learning.
A recent study published by Elsevier examined the correlation between the amount of printed reading students performed before and during the school closures associated with COVID-19. According to the study, school-aged children demonstrated a clear preference for reading in printed format rather than digital. They read significantly more frequently in print—and for longer periods—when compared to digital formats. Other studies have concluded that students who read printed materials tend to have better literacy skills than those who read digitally. In addition, reading on paper can be a more immersive experience. It can result in deeper comprehension and retention of information, better vocabulary, and improved critical thinking skills—which are all essential qualities for successful learning.
There is undoubtedly some anxiety among print professionals due to the declining use of printed materials in all industries, including education. At the same time, however, there is also reason for some optimism. Many young people continue to respond to printed communications. According to Keypoint Intelligence’s most recent Marketing Communications consumer research, 45% of respondents between the ages of 18 and 24 read all of the direct mail they received—a share that was higher than any of the other age groups surveyed.
Share of Consumers Who Read All of their Direct Mail
Base: Total Consumer Respondents in the U.S. and Canada
Source: Annual State of Marketing Communications: Consumer Survey, Keypoint Intelligence 2020
Even as digital natives, young people are not immune to screen fatigue, and some younger consumers see print as a way to escape from their heavily electronic worlds. In the classroom, color-rich, personalized lesson materials that are printed and can be held in the hand are often more impactful than documents that are scrolled through and viewed on a laptop or mobile device.
Although printed communications are declining, print has staying power largely because if its versatility. It is suitable for a great many education-related applications, including school signage, brochures, lesson plans, course learning materials, certificates, term reports, newsletters, letters, application forms, consent forms, marketing collateral, packaging, labels, newsletters, floor/wall graphics, and direct mail. Think about it—a printed certificate highlighting an award or recent achievement will mean infinitely more to a child than an e-mail recognition. The printed piece can be displayed and then cherished for years to come. Furthermore, digital printing opens the door for eye-catching effects like metallics, neon colors, and even unique textures.
The Bottom Line
The increased use of digital in the classroom is a good thing, as it enables teachers, students, and parents to stay connected regardless of location. Electronic documents also make it easier for teachers to tailor their assignments and questions to suit the needs of students on an individual level. Despite these benefits, the need for print in education will persevere. The negatives of an all-digital education—including eye strain, lack of engagement, and reduced processing capabilities—are well-documented in today’s world. Moving forward, teachers must embrace an intelligent blend of digital and printed materials as they work to shape the students of today into the leaders of tomorrow.
With over two decades of publishing experience, Priya Gohil has been providing A3, production, and wide format analysis since joining Keypoint Intelligence in 2013. While sharply focused on custom test reporting as well as high-value subscription content, she also provides strategy support around the Production 2.0 Test Program. Priya contributes blogs and a variety of other articles across all of Keypoint Intelligence’s channels.