We have determined, over the course of our nearly 40 years helping associations deliver knowledge, that print is a best practice for educational materials. It has been fulfilling to find research that supports our position. Last month, the Washington Post published Why Digital Natives Prefer Reading in Print. Yes, You Read That Right. In the article, author and linguist Naomi S. Baron discussed the research in her new book, Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World.
Millennials prefer printed books for many reasons, including the lack of distraction (compared to reading on a connected device). In our own survey/ of millennials, we learned that 59% agree that it’s easier to learn from printed materials, but the Washington Post article notes that young adult readers like print best for both learning and reading for pleasure.
Printed books have many advantages to their digital counterparts, especially when it comes to educational materials. Readers have a tendency to skim on screen. (I suspect, without judgment, that you may be doing that right now!) Distraction is inextricably linked to reading on a screen. If the ding! of an email notification or text message doesn’t draw you away from the task at hand, there’s always cat videos waiting on YouTube, just a few clicks away.
As a result of the skimming and the distractions, as well as other factors more neurolinguistic in nature, both comprehension and retention are compromised when reading digital materials. And that’s the real crux of the matter. It’s important to consider the end result of using printed materials or digital resources. eLearning is still relatively new, and little is known about the long-reaching effects of reading online and retention over time.
Some instructors and providers of educational materials are pushing their learners towards online resources, citing short-term benefits like cost savings, the ability to update materials more easily, and even physiological effects, like the impact heavy backpacks have on posture and back strain. The longer view—including drawbacks to using digital resources, like lower comprehension, retention, and overall learner experience—isn’t being carefully considered. There may be serious consequences to pushing learners to read course material online, and we ignore it to our detriment.
As you decide how to deliver training content to your association leaners, keep these issues in mind and challenge your own assumptions about young professionals. The common perception may be that millennials grew up online and insist on digital resources, but this isn’t what the research—our survey and other sources like the Washington Post article and Baron’s new book—is telling us. To improve retention for your learners of all ages, printed training materials is the right choice.