Research: Students learn better from print resources than online resources

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By Katie King on

Books before blogs

Image via Instagram @etm0513

Law students have rallied around their precious law textbooks this week, as research reveals reading printed text is better for learning than online text is.

New US research suggests that when asked specific questions about what they’d just read, students’ comprehension of printed texts is “significantly better” than their comprehension of online texts.

Interestingly, and in the authors’ words “paradoxically”, the research did note students overwhelmingly preferred to use digitised resources over print editions, despite the differences in comprehension.

We’d be unsurprised if law students preferred online resources over print, too. Law textbooks are notoriously expensive, library wait times can be arduous, and let’s not even mention the aches and pains caused by lugging 1,000-pages of contract notes back to halls.

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It’s arguably more efficient too, as one law graduate and future trainee told us:

“In the time it would take a student to look up the case of Re Vandervell Trustees Ltd (No 2) in the Court of Appeal reports, another one using Westlaw has already found the case, highlighted the crucial dicta and found ten recent cases where the principles have been followed.”

But, on balance, it seems law students are more pro-print than they are devoted to digital.

One law student told Legal Cheek that while a move to online resources is more efficient, being able to easily highlight and make notes on printed text sways it for them. This is so despite the extra costs on printing and folders, said another fellow law student.

A third aspiring lawyer, who recently completed a postgraduate, was given all study material in online and hard copy format during her Legal Practice Course (LPC). She said:

“I chose and still choose the hard print over online reading every single time. Not only for health reasons (my eyes already requiring glasses), but because it’s much easier to highlight/circle/annotate a hardcover textbook. All of this made me realise I do indeed capture and retain the information much more quickly if I have the physical textbook in my hands. Plus, the classic ‘book smell’ in every library. For me, it sharpens and focuses the mind.”

But maybe it’s not a case of either or.

“I find that both resources work perfectly together,” one law student said. “For mooting, online databases were invaluable. For my coursework, nothing could replace printed documents and a simple highlighter.”

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