Digital vs. Print Preferences of College Students

The Student Monitor survey for Fall 2014 is the result of a detailed questionnaire completed by a representative sample of 1200 students. It includes all sorts of data, largely related to the students’ purchases of digital devices and uses of digital technologies and media.

I find the following chart of college students’ print or digital preferences for completing various academic tasks to be somewhat surprising:

Student Monitor Survey 108

Although very few students seem to own desktop pc’s any more, the movement away from laptops to tablets seems to be occurring much more slowly among college students than among the population as a whole—though I suspect that most people would expect the opposite to be true.

More surprisingly, print materials are still the choice of a plurality, though not a majority, of students for all tasks except keeping a calendar and conducting class-related research. Most notably, there is still an almost a two-to-one preference for print textbooks and printed problem sets over digital alternatives. The gap does narrow, however, to less than ten percent for note taking in class and studying other course-related materials.

So, although higher education is very clearly in the midst of a migration from the use of print materials to an increasing reliance on digital materials, (1) it is not occurring as quickly as most sources have reported or most prognosticators have expected and (2) it is not being driven, as commonly reported and assumed, by student preferences.

Indeed, another chart in this report very clearly indicates that the shift is being driven by cost more than by any other factor—indeed, almost as much by that factor as by any two other factors combined:

Student Monitor Survey 102

The full survey is available at:


One thought on “Digital vs. Print Preferences of College Students

Your comments are welcome. They must be relevant to the topic at hand and must not contain advertisements, degrade others, or violate laws or considerations of privacy. We encourage the use of your real name, but do not prohibit pseudonyms as long as you don’t impersonate a real person.