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The perils of the paperless classroom

In recent years, technology has transformed many aspects of education and brought ingenious new methods of teaching which have offered students simple and effective study tools. Many have revolutionised the classroom, but nothing yet has come close to replacing the humble pen and paper.

Books have long been a symbol for learning and education, and it is hard to imagine a classroom without them. However, in some institutes, traditional paper books have taken a back seat whilst e-readers and tablets are moved to the forefront. This switch hasn’t taken into account the digital divide in the UK.

Whilst some believe the new gadgets will engage children more, the benefits of printed books, from a learning perspective, far outweigh that of their electronic counterparts.

And its not just books – many schools are turning to apps and software to set timetables and homework. For some these are a welcome move with the times, but can they replace the physical academic diary?

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why traditional paper-based methods should not be abandoned and how printed books can work alongside technology for a fuller, more rounded approach to education.

Memory and Concentration

A vital part of the learning process is for students to take in information and remember it. Memorising the information given to you is of paramount importance and some learning methods work better than others for this. This is a very good case for the printed book, as research has revealed that reading on paper gives better comprehension, retention and concentration.

The study, carried out by 200 scholars of education, reading, and literacy as part of the initiative ‘COST Action E-READ (Evolution of Reading in the Age of Digitisation)’, examined the results of 54 studies with a total of over 170,000 participants from 19 countries, and found that comprehension is much higher for the students reading from paper as opposed to their counterparts reading from an e-reader or screen. This was particularly notable when the reader was placed under time pressure.

These findings became especially prominent with younger students of primary school age. Children were much more likely to be able to recall the details of a story they had read from a printed book than if they had read from an e-reader. Reading from a device often would lead to children becoming distracted by the gadget itself and engagement with the text was lesser.


Comprehension and retention are both crucial parts of education and clearly, printed text holds the crown when it comes to these factors.

Another essential process in a structured education is organisation. A student’s life is much easier when they can organise themselves and a well organised student is one to surely reap the benefits of their studies.

There is now a plethora of apps adopted by many educational institutes in which the student can organise timetables, assessments and communications.  These tools can be invaluable to some yet the act of writing a task down manually not only makes it more likely for the student to remember it, but also instils a sense of accomplishment when the task can be crossed off on completion.

Having a physical diary too, helps the student visualise the week ahead, plan in advance and stay organised quickly and efficiently.


Reading and writing on paper have clear educational benefits. There have been plenty of studies to show this. However, there is one further benefit that does not need much in the way of scientific backing. This is the very simple fact that pens and paper are cheap, simple and easily available. There is no need to worry about battery life, internet access, software updates.

One concern many educators have when it comes to paperless teaching, is the very fact that it requires more resources. Not only must students have access to a device, they must also be able to access the internet, charge it and store information on it. Whilst these factors can perhaps be catered for by the school itself, when it comes to homework, one must have to take the assumption that the student has access to all of this at home too. This, of course, is clearly not the case for all students. Writing tools such as pens, pencils and notebooks are readily available to all and are, by comparison, considerably cheaper.

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Despite so many gadgets on the market, print and paper have never been replaced. Technology develops at an incredibly fast rate and the educational forum has quickly become saturated with useful tools and apps; however, none have come close to completely substituting print and paper as a learning tool.

Electronic learning can run in conjunction with more traditional printed techniques and they can complement each other, but they should not be used as a substitute if you want to ensure a rounded and effective approach to learning.

Print and paper continue to reign supreme and this shows the power of such a classic medium. For hundreds of years the book has been the symbol of education, and even with all the new electronic tools continuing to be introduced, this does not look set to change anytime soon.