In the year 2016 you could be forgiven for assuming that print format academic readings are on their way to extinction or sharply in decline amongst student in higher education. Nevertheless, according to the Academic Reading Format International Study (find ARFIS on Facebook) carried out during the Lent term of 2016, this is far from true and in fact most university students still prefer to read in print format for academic purposes. The survey is part of an international study carried out in more than 20 countries to date; it was completed by 655 students from different universities in the UK. This post provides a summary of some of the key findings, which are similar to findings from around the world. We have also highlighted some of the specific findings in relation to students at LSE. You can read the full ARFIS UK report in LSE Research Online.

They survey found that 42 percent of participants strongly agree to preferring all their course materials in print format, followed by 28 percent who agreed with this statement. This finding is very similar to the one found by Diane Mizrachi who surveyed students in the US (see Mizrachi, 2014). When asked about the convenience of reading in electronic format, the opinion of the participants in the UK was divided: 27 percent disagreed with the statement “It is more convenient to read my assigned readings electronically than to read them in print”, while 25 percent agreed with this statement.

In the case of the LSE participants, the results were very similar. 49 percent of the LSE participants strongly agreed to preferring all their course materials in print format. In terms of learning engagement, 43 percent of the LSE participants strongly agreed to remembering information from their course reading better when reading from print format. Furthermore, 53 percent of the LSE participants strongly agreed to the statement “I can focus on the material better when I read it in print”. However, there were some differences between participants at the LSE and the findings for the whole UK. Compared to UK results, a higher proportion of LSE students agreed and strongly agreed to finding it more convenient to read their assigned readings in electronic format, than to read them in print. Also a slightly higher proportion of participants from LSE reported highlighting and annotating their electronic readings (see the full report for further details.)

In general, the results of the study suggest that there still is a wide preference for print format, especially for the purpose of learning and study. Although, this preference can vary according to different factors such as: cost of printing, possibility of remote access and portability, availability of print copies, among others. The purpose of the reading can also be very important in terms of preference and convenience. As one of the participants expressed:

“If I read for writing assignments, I like using computer to make notes as words are easier to be moved and organised. Therefore, I prefer electronic copies. But, if I read to prepare for classes only, I like reading with printed copies and I can underline words and make marginal notes.”

In this sense, the preference for one or the other format might not be a fixed one. Students can prefer or find more convenient print or electronic formats in different contexts. The option of accessing both formats, together with training courses or workshops for students to become more familiar with the electronic reading platforms offered by their universities and how to use note-taking Apps, are recommended to better meet students’ needs.

Further to this study and linking to the students understanding of the use of technology, Learning Technology and Innovation recently completed a research project (2020 vision) aimed at gathering the student voice on the future for educational technology. An overarching finding is that students don’t know what they aren’t shown; resulting in them not knowing how technology can be used to enhance teaching and learning. Such finding and findings in this ARFIS report highlight the importance of engaging with the students in order to understand how they learn, what they use to learn and their views on how to enhancing teaching and learning.

In general, the results of the ARFIS UK study contribute to our understanding of students’ use of technology in the course of their studies. They also help to inform purchasing decisions being made in university libraries over the acquisition of textbooks, e-books and their digitisation policies.