Nov 12, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Much has been written about the status of today’s students as the first generation of “digital natives.” However, does the fact that kids have grown up surrounded by technology mean that they learn best via smartphones, tablets, and e-readers? Not necessarily, according to recent evidence published in The Conversation. Here’s a closer look at the findings, along with key takeaways for teachers, parents and policymakers.

The Electronic Imperative?

There’s no denying that technology has a massive influence on today’s youth. As a result, schools have increasingly invested in classroom technologies, including e-textbooks. Many states have gone so far as to require that all textbooks be available in digital versions. While this might imply a link between digital texts and better learning outcomes, the latest findings suggest that this is not actually the case.

Contend Professor of Psychology Patricia Alexander and Psychology PhD candidate Lauren Singer Trakhman, “As researchers in learning and text comprehension, our recent work has focused on the differences between reading print and digital media. While new forms of classroom technology like digital textbooks are more accessible and portable, it would be wrong to assume that students will automatically be better served by digital reading simply because they prefer it.”

Different Purposes, Different Delivery Methods?

More specifically, the research revealed discrepancies between how students think they perform and how they actually do perform when using screens.

For example, while students “overwhelmingly preferred to read digitally” and read faster while doing so, their comprehension was significantly better when reading in print. However, this only applied to more detailed questions. (Comprehension remained the same for broader content.) In other words, while there’s no “one medium fits all” approach, reading assignments requiring deeper comprehension may be better suited for print delivery methods.

The overall takeaway, according to Alexander and Trakhman? “There may be economic and environmental reasons to go paperless. But there’s clearly something important that would be lost with print’s demise.”

Read more about studying education technology.

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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