The Value and Future of Book Learning in a Coding and Web Environment

In an age in which book learning is at an all-time low in terms of popularity and relevancy, how are learners seeking out academic textbooks and how are authors adapting to meet their needs?

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We find that’s experience reflects the experiences of recent college graduates who are adjusting to a working world in which new technology has fundamentally shifted their consumption of cultural experiences. As a result, these recent graduates frequently turn to books in an attempt to have both that “humbling” sense of discovery that comes from reading a new book, combined with a more or less standardized learning experience.

Rising rates of reading in lower education institutions could be related to a culture of creativity in academic text, but it may be more indicative of a rise in reader loyalty that demands familiarity. With more high school and undergraduate students investing in long-form study, this effect has also spilled over into graduate schools, where the same trend could be seen as well.

Technological change and the rise of specialized reading

We see how readers’ expectations of what academic reading will include can be influenced by both the relative quality of reading material and the accessibility of the books within this content.

The rise of digital technology has been both beneficial and detrimental to the popularity of books as well as the reading environment.

During our time as faculty at a small university, we constantly struggled to maintain an appropriate balance between high-quality and accessible reading experiences.

On the one hand, digital technology offers tremendous opportunities for accessibility, but publishers have had difficulty ensuring this quality is always achievable at current levels. In our experience as faculty members, this has led to some readers having short attention spans and finding fault with the content when a book fails to meet these expectations.

On the other hand, readers continue to find value in books in order to understand modern issues and topics. Readers seek the form of a book based on what information will be most helpful in understanding them.

Books that fit these expectations can be linked to and even highlighted by readers. As one reader wrote to us in response to our study:

“I read the Book/Modern Warfare or How Ants Fall because it really made sense to me in ways that other, more conversational books I read did not. It helped me understand real people and real violence.”

Digital technology and the “tech vs. book” debate

We also asked recent graduates about how digital technology has affected the way they view the books they read, whether they would consider abandoning books, and whether they would prefer a tailored reading experience to that currently offered by the traditional printing and reading experience.

Many experienced readers cited not having a book in hand as an incentive to the comprehension of their text, and those who would prefer the convenience of digital technology noted that while it does require more effort to read digital texts than print books, it can provide access to information at an unprecedented level.

Readers want to experience new and different perspectives, not try to reproduce a book as much as possible. While many writers are working with new technology to tailor this experience, at some point, the built-in limitations of new technology will lead to the loss of quality in text.

The effect of these technological limitations has in part been the displacement of printed and scholarly text. Younger readers and those who were previously hesitant to read, might have begun to do so, and then found value in the benefits of combining the printed and digital experience.

There is a growing divide between scholarly and popular forms of reading. Students can access information and commentary in new and far-reaching ways, and they want to read that information, regardless of whether it’s in printed form or through digital technology.

They are looking for content and experience in the same way that designers are creating experiences for consumers. The adoption of technological change and this demand for quality is what we’re seeing in the end results of today’s cultural experiences.

The migration of educational text into the digital space has had a massive impact on all kinds of different readers. It’s now up to publishers to expand their approach to different types of users, with different expectations.

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