We live in an era of information overload. Citizens of the connected world are deluged with digital information – e-mail, links, social media updates and gaming notifications to name just a few – from the moment we wake up until the minute we go to sleep.
Some experts see this data overload as a key cause of stress and anxiety. In fact, a recent article in The Economistreferred to the rapid deluge of 24/7 information as “data asphyxiation, data smog and information-fatigue syndrome.”
We have seen students try to navigate through this “data smog” with social sites, texting, e-readers, music devices and tablets.
But are they really augmenting their schoolwork with the latest must-have inventions? Or are their studies suffering while they fall prey to digital domination?
I read in The New York Timesthat schools nationwide spent $2.2 billion on educational software last year, despite the fact that educators are still vigorously debating whether technology measurably enhances academic achievement. As schools across the country are proudly ushering in the new era of learning, I think we should pause and take a moment to discuss the impact digital technology can have on student learning: Do students learn best using traditional means, such as books and the printed page? Or are new formats, such as digital tablets and e-readers, the best tools for learning?
While I appreciate a good debate, it shouldn’t be so cut and dry. In fact, I believe that both physical and virtual tools are important to learning.
There are experts who think books, paper and the printed page are required for study immersion. They believe deeper understanding results from interacting with printed study materials. Others think interactive devices are necessary to access the vast amount of content and online resources. But the best evidence suggests that we cannot afford to become dependent solely on either. We need both.
Today, there are many examples of the virtual and physical world combining to enable a new personalized approach to learning, whether on a blackboard, textbook, mobile screen or tablet. From kindergarten to university, the individual – student, instructor or parent – is gaining control over content and finding ways to meet the needs of their specific learning style.
Coloring with Tablets
Take Apple's iPad for example. When it was first introduced, parents loved it. But they immediately wanted the ability to print, especially coloring pages for their young children. In fact, soon after a survey of 6,000 iPad users showed that people wanted to print, Apple AirPrint was born. Today, parents can use their tablet or mobile phone to print workbooks for quality offline learning time, such as solving math problems or writing the alphabet. The tablet’s access to that content, combined with its ability to produce a physical printed page, delivers a unique way to foster creativity and learn new skills.
Digitizing Educational Content
Even though much of the K-12 educational community shows a preference for print, those printed materials have become even more relevant and meaningful thanks to digital content. Teachers can go online to access vast libraries of digitized, scholarly content, create their lesson plans, and print customized instructional materials that specifically meet the needs of each classroom. As a result, teachers have gained unprecedented control over the customization of classroom content and learning.
Higher Learning On-demand
Colleges and universities now have the ability to fully customize textbooks. Instructors can get a digital review copy in less than an hour and print a copy in days instead of weeks. This customization greatly enhances the teaching and learning experience and does so at a lower cost to the school, the student and the environment.
In the fast-paced classrooms of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, a surveyfound that its MBA students prefer paper over e-readers, citing the ease of navigation between pages, documents, charts and graphs. Since this study, the advent of mobile printing has created a new breed of portable computing devices that can print, publish, scan and help store documents in the cloud. Web-aware, print-capable computing devices create a perfect environment for the future cloud-based MBA.
Learning: Have it your Way
By 2025, experts say the worldwide population will grow by one billion people. That pace demands that all writing and learning tools – computers, mobile devices, paper and ink resources –become more affordable, flexible and environmentally sustainable. Digital technology is at the core of this change.
With digital content doubling every 18 months, web-aware and cloud-aware devices are paving the way for new types of personalized content. With 90 percent of the world able to access a mobile network, more of work and life are moving into the cloud. Computing, printing and imaging technologies are streamlining outdated processes and creating new, sustainable ways of learning, living and creating.
The future of learning will depend on a combination of the virtual and the physical. Textbooks will no longer sit unread in warehouses, but will be printed on demand. Mobile phones will become as capable as any school’s computer center, reducing costs for schools with the ability to store, manage and print entire course loads.
So, is it digital or print? Which one will prevail in the learning revolution and thrive in the era of “data smog?”
The answer is “both.” Screen-based devices and the physical page need to continue to evolve. Together, they’ll power successful 21st century education.
Vyomesh Joshi is Executive Vice President of HP’s Imaging and Printing Group .