In Defense of Books and Reading in the Age of Digital Learning

My little bookworm

In this digital age, when kids would rather play games or use a learning app on a laptop or tablet, how can you teach them to love (or at least, appreciate) the written word.

You would probably ask, do they still really NEED books? They can read from a tablet. In fact, we’re now seeing schools replace textbooks with tablets. It won’t be long before this will be standard, the norm.

With almost every kid using a smartphone and tablet, it’s reasonable to be a little concerned on how this would affect reading, book reading in particular. I’m an adult and I love reading; but I can’t deny that there are times that when the games I have on my phone appeal to me more than a book. The apps I have on my phone are more accessible than a book, prompting me to use it more. If I can be distracted by devices, how much more of a distraction would it be for a child.

But Books Are Boring…

If you need proof of what I’m talking about, just look at the video above.  When this viral video first came out, we all thought it was funny and cute. It’s amazing how a 1 year old can easily master the gestures used to control an iPad. And I admit that it’s funny to see how frustrated she was when the magazine won’t work the same way she expected from an tablet.

But when you think about it, if she becomes frustrated with a magazine then how can a book compete with that? I’m sure even now, we can see it in our own kids. That if they were given the choice between an iPad and a book to lull them to sleep, would the book still offer some competition or would the iPad win, hands-down, each and every time?

The Future of Learning


Image representing One Laptop Per Child as dep...
Image via CrunchBase

Tablets and laptops are great tools. In fact, the experiment in Africa by the One Laptop per Child Foundation have shown that if you give a child a laptop or a device full of educational applications, they can start learning by themselves even without teachers. And the reason why this experiment has shown such encouraging results is because these devices are interactive and highly engaging. In fact, some see this approach as the future of education in the form of Digital Socrates.

But the problem I have with this approach is that it encourages kids to constantly seek stimulation. True study, in depth learning, requires focus, patience and creativity. Interactive apps can make complicated concepts easier or more appealing to learn but true understanding of concepts comes from focus. And this, I believe, is what you get from reading.

Irreplaceable Value of Book Reading

I love technology and I’m all for starting a digital revolution in learning. But I believe reading, book reading, still holds a lot of value. And as much as possible, we have to instill the love of book reading (whether it’s a real book or an ebook) to children. It’s important because it promotes certain skills that no app can ever replicate, skills such as:

Cover of "Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet&...
Cover of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

Creativity. Every person interprets a story in their own way and that’s where creativity comes from. Take Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet for example. This play has been re-imagined in so many ways in the theater, in movies, on television, and in novels, mainly because different people interpret the story in their own way. And every re-read of the story brings a new interpretation influenced by our knowledge and experience. Most learning apps work along predefined parameters. But when you give a child a book, the possibilities are endless.

Focus. Reading teaches children focus; that doing things well every step of the way is just as important as getting things done. In a world that’s obsessed with outputs and turn around times, reading is all about the process, it’s about the journey. Books don’t give instant gratification in the same way a learning app can. Books encourage (or in some cases, force) you to follow a story, an idea, a theory every step of the way until you reach a conclusion.

Title page of the first edition of Moby-Dick, ...

Attention To Detail. It takes focus to read thoughtfully and once you do, you’re able to pay more attention to details. And we all know that the devil is in the details. Movies and videos can’t show the subtle nuances of a novel, a piece of poetry, or a short story that makes them memorable classics or emotional reads. I remember when I read Moby Dick in high school I was so intrigued by the way Herman Melville described the process of extracting fat from sperm whale. That chapter was, for me at least, so romantic and peaceful; so different from the rest of the book where there was so much anger and drudgery. But when you watch the movie, or the TV shows based on the book you won’t see that see. You’ll see the action and the violence but you won’t see that moment of peace. That single chapter allowed me to appreciate why Moby Dick is a classic.

Patience. I don’t think I need to elaborate on the benefits of this. The only downside I had with patience was when my daughter insisted that we finish her entire Dr. Seuss collection (which, thankfully and unfortunately, is still incomplete) before going to sleep. I figured if she’s willing to read through the eight-story volume of Curious George in one sitting, she can probably read through anything.

In Conclusion

English: Four children reading the book How th...
English: Four children reading the book How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Digital learning is a wonderful concept because it allows for customized education, something that can greatly benefit our children and our society. But book reading shouldn’t be disregarded or seen as something obsolete. More than ever, I think book reading should be the core of this revolution.

Think of a book as a foundation of a house. They’re all built using the written word, which can be boring compared to fancy graphics and viral videos, but it’s a solid foundation that’s been tested by time. And like every good home foundation, it’s solid but unobtrusive, allowing you to build your home anyway you want. That’s what reading can do for you and your child, giving them a stable base that they can build upon whatever they want that’s still strong enough to whether any storm.

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4 Replies to “In Defense of Books and Reading in the Age of Digital Learning”

  1. This is a really interesting topic. My kids are older so they all have their own electronic devices. They all like reading, but the two older kids still read books. My youngest son has an iPad and chooses to read on that. Over spring break I went to lunch with him (just the two of us) and in talking, he mentioned that he is reading Dante’s Inferno on his iPad. I had no idea! I’ve never read it but he went on about how good it was…I’m thinking that’s a pretty big book for a 12 year old. But what I found was interesting was that he is choosing to read on his iPad instead of asking me for books now.

  2. Wow. My kids are older too, never thought this would be an issue. Since they were little we said they could stay up later in bed, but only if they were reading a book. This habit continues.

    Maybe this is a generation thing, but we even bought our kids NOOKs and they still prefer to read the paper version rather than an ebook!

    Anyhoo, hope you have a Happy Mother’s Day! Stopping by from SITS. 🙂

    1. Thanks for dropping by. I was inspired to write this because I was bothered by how my students in Sunday school were more familiar with a tablet than using a table of contents.

      I guess it is a generation thing. The kids born within the past 5 years were exposed to tech a lot sooner. And I think the reason for this is because a lot of parents have been using the ipad as a crutch to discipline children

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