Why digital learning needs to incorporate books

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You may be one to fear that the death of the book is looming on the tech-obsessed horizon. But new research shows that people of all ages continue to see the value reading brings to building knowledge and developing new skills.

As one of history’s greatest literary figures, Ernest Hemingway, once explained, “There is no friend as loyal as a book.”

In a world where many of us are now glued to screens from sunrise to sunset, the importance of these words can easily be overlooked. Our multimodal world has many advantages – speed, ease, connectedness, access to information and much more.

One of the downsides, however, is that the humble book has taken a backseat. Books are often seen as a pastime – a hobby – something we try to make time for, but often find ourselves unable to do with the distractions of modern technology.

It may be surprising, then, to learn that research suggests traditional books are viewed as one of the most vital resources for learning. A recent study of more than 2,000 Skillsoft users reveals that, despite a perceived preference for video in today’s digitally driven society, 80 percent of the survey’s respondents across all age ranges identified books as an important part of their learning experiences.

In fact, 85 percent of IT learners and 74 per cent of business learners said they use books to develop new skills, with one-third relying on books as their primary learning resource.

Famous readers

In an interview with the New York Times, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates explained that while he regularly meets scientists and watches lectures online, “Reading is still the main way that I both learn new things and test my understanding.”

The article points out that Gates – who reads around 50 books every year – has emerged as a force in the publishing industry with his blog, Gates Notes, where he reviews books and makes reading list recommendations.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg believes that “Books allow you to fully explore a topic and immerse yourself in a deeper way than most media today.” Zuckerberg launched his own book club in 2015, and encourages people to read a book every two weeks.

Many readers around the world have taken this challenge on, sending “sales rocketing” for the founder’s book club selections.  

When it comes to adults and professional work, books outperform other modes of learning.    

The role of reading in digital learning

Traditional books are a foundational part of learning for all generations. Today’s modern learner craves relevance and substance, and this is why books play a significant role in a digital learning programme.

Digital learning is not just about providing great video-based content. Integrating digital books with video-based eLearning and opportunities to practice practical skills creates a balance between depth and relevance. A balance that many organisations may have traditionally struggled to find with their corporate learning function.

Books – whether printed on paper or presented as eBooks on a digital learning platform – offer learners a new context and better understanding. They may be traditional, but they continue to meet the demands of modern learners.

Drilling down further, here are three reasons why books still have an important place in modern learning.

1. Books cross generational boundaries

A good book sticks with us for life; it creates memories, evokes emotion and enables a particular type of sensory information recall. Books engage the senses, the mind and the imagination.

Ask any older person what bedtime books they were read as children and they will likely recall the entire scene – where they were, how old they were, even the smell of the room.

Books also transcend generational divides. Skillsoft’s research found that books are the preferred method of learning among 83 percent of millennials, 72 percent of Gen X and 79 percent of baby boomers.

Despite the plethora of information available to us, when we really want to learn something the vast majority of us turn to books, whether digital, audio or paper.

Reading is faster at relieving stress than other commonly tried methods, such as drinking tea, listening to music or going for a walk.

2. Books deliver the best professional learning outcomes

When it comes to adults and professional work, books outperform other modes of learning. Skillsoft’s research found books were critical in learning situations where content credibility is either important or complex.

The same is true when the outcomes have high stakes, for example when an engineer or IT professional is working a certification or qualification. Many academic books have a structure and depth that helps us remember detailed information in a way that other forms of learning cannot.

3. Books make us healthier and happier

Reading makes us live longer, happier lives. A 2016 study found that regular reading can increase our lifespan, while a more recent study conducted in the UK found that reading for just six minutes reduces stress by two-thirds.

It also demonstrated reading is faster at relieving stress than other commonly tried methods, such as drinking tea, listening to music or going for a walk.

Reading also keeps your mind sharp. According to research published in the online issue of the journal Neurology, people who exercised their minds later in life had a 32 percent lower rate of mental decline compared to their peers with average mental activity. 

Do me a favour. This week, instead of letting your phone or social media be the last thing you look at before you go to bed, read a book. Reflect on how you feel at the end of the week; my bet is that you will feel more positive, inspired, informed and less anxious.

 

About Agata Nowakowska

Agata

Agata Nowakowska is AVP at Skillsoft. 

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