Print or eBook for Literature Study?

Is Print or eBook Better for Learning?

I am occasionally asked whether Kindle or other e-reader versions of the classics will work as well as the print versions. I know that digital books can be cheap and convenient, but I usually recommend print books for literature study.

Forbidden Fruit by George Agnew Reid, 1889, [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsThere is a body of research that seems to indicate that print is superior, particularly for learning. This is not the only factor to consider, but it is a place to start. Here are a few articles to consider as you decide between print or ebook format.

The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens

Science Has Great News for People Who Read Actual Books

The Medium is the Medium by David Brooks

The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens

Readers absorb less on Kindles than on paper, study finds

Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say

Children’s and Young People’s Reading in 2013

It’s “digital heroin”: How screens turn kids into psychotic junkies

You won’t remember this article, or anything else you read online, unless you print it out 

The choice between print or Kindle is yours, of course, and students using an electronic version will still profit from using Excellence in Literature. Beyond the question of print or Kindle edition, there are other things to consider when choosing book formats.

Consider quality in any format

Quality of text and supporting material: Although many of the oldest classics are available free on Kindle, they often come without a helpful introduction or reader’s notes and have not been carefully checked for scanning errors.

Quality of translation: In Excellence in Literature, we read a significant number of works in translation, including Homer’s Odyssey, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, and others. The quality of the translation significantly affects the understandability and enjoyability of the work. I have selected translations I feel are particularly clear or beautiful, and most are available in both print and digital formats.

List of recommended editions.

What about audiobooks?

I have long recommended using an audiobook version for works that were originally composed to be told orally. Epic poems such as Beowulf, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid were written to be heard, and can often be best appreciated by ear.

Audiobooks can also be useful for auditory learners and students who have learning difficulties. Listening to a book can help students see the big picture in a lengthy or complex work, and can often lead to a deeper understanding of underlying themes.

One caution — avid readers who immerse deeply in a book may find the audio format distracting or frustrating, so remember to be sensitive to learning styles. Many students find it easier to absorb audiobooks when their hands are busy, so reading time can be a good opportunity to practice drawing or another hands-on activity.

Choosing an audiobook

Most classics are available in audio format, and you will often have a choice between readers. A great reader can bring even the most challenging text to life, and a mediocre reader can sometimes spoil it. Our family has a longstanding account with Audible.com, and when choosing an audiobook, we always listen to samples of each available reader in order to choose one whose voice and pacing fit the poem, play, or novel.

Just as drama is most powerful when seen in performance, poetry is often most powerful when heard. Feel free to choose the format that best fits the poem, play, or story in each module.

Remember the goal

One of my primary goals with Excellence in Literature is to have students finish the year loving literature (or at least some of the books they’ve read). Consider your student’s learning style and reading ability, the studies referenced here, and each classic work itself, and choose the format or edition that you believe will work best.

Amazon, Kindle, and Fire are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. Any links to Amazon are likely to be affiliate links.

Janice Campbell

Janice Campbell writes and speaks about homeschooling, using lifestyle of learning approach influenced by Charlotte Mason, classical learning, and the Thomas Jefferson method. Her books and resources, including Excellence in Literature, Transcripts Made Easy, and Get a Jump Start on College, reflect Janice’s focus on twaddle-free, active learning (she did have boys, after all!).

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