It would be hard to accuse me of being a Luddite about digital technology. I know of few people who are as tied to their technology as I am. I’m always connected, whether it’s with my iMac, iPhone or iPad. Despite being a big believer in the power of technology, though, I’m hesitant about digital textbooks — but I’m not sure why.
Printed textbooks seem destined to go the way of the dodo. Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about how iPads are sweeping schools and displacing books. I love my iPad, so I can see how it’s capable of that. I’m just not certain it’s the right medium for learning.
An iPad running a textbook app with hyperlinks and all sorts of learning aids might be great for improving education. I’m not saying I’m definitely against them. I just know I’m uncomfortable about switching away from books.
I have the Bible on my iPad and I use it for quick reference and for following along during worship services, yet when I’m ready to do more serious study, I still find myself reaching for a paper copy of the Bible. Why? I find that I can flip around and make connections in the paper copy far more quickly than I can on the iPad version. Yes, the iPad version has hyperlinks and a search engine, but if I’m reading something in Mark and I want to compare it to something in Matthew, my fingers “know” where to go quickly and I get there far more rapidly than I could if I had to use the digital way.
With people who don’t have years of experience with the Bible, the iPad might be easier. They might not remember that Matthew is right before Mark. They might be browsing through the Old Testament before giving up and looking for the table of contents. So they could search for the book on the iPad as quickly as I could search for it, even though they might take longer to find it in a printed book.
Here’s what I’m starting to suspect. I’m thinking that there’s a steep learning curve with using books for study, but once you’ve mastered the basics and start knowing a bit about the material, it remains very efficient to use a physical, printed book. On the other hand, there’s a shallow learning curve with studying on the iPad, but there’s not as much depth once you’ve mastered it. The iPad also has a huge cost advantage over the cost of new textbooks, especially if you take into account how easily the information can be updated.
I can’t prove yet that printed books are better for education than iPads. I’m not even certain I believe it. But I know I’m nervous about throwing out our physical books and taking a huge gamble on iPads quite yet.