Learning from E books

I love to travel. I spend most of my spare time heading off somewhere fun/exotic/hot/cold/downright scary. The rest of my time is spent planning such trips. One of my favourite books is Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel and some of my favourite gadgets are those which make travel easier and more enjoyable.

My top five in reverse order:

5. Solar powered phone charger – very useful when spending 7 weeks living in a tent looking after baby monkeys on a sanctuary in South Africa. Not so useful when mountain walking in North Wales…

4. Wind-up torch. Not very techy but very useful in countries where 24 hour electricity is sometimes a luxury.

3. Blackberry/smartphone – if only I could afford the data charges to actually use it.

2. Ipod – mainly used for playing soothing tunes on scary flights and hairy road trips.

1. My Kindle*, what else…

Second after travelling I love reading and also just owning books. As I sit writing I am surrounded by over a 1000 ‘proper’ books (1213 to be precise – I counted while I was waiting for blog inspiration). I love buying books and get quite protective over the books I lend out to people, issuing a set of rules as I smile and say ‘Keep it as long as you like’ through slightly gritted teeth. I therefore resisted an e-reader for ages, feeling I was being unfaithful to the book. But long journeys and meagre luggage allowances eventually got the better of me and I finally succumbed.

So I like reading novels on my Kindle. I like the convenience and portability and the ease of book purchase. But can I study on it?

As with many questions the answer it seems is ‘it depends’. The word study can mean many different things from skimming a document, detailed reading, making notes, to researching concepts, answering questions and discussing problems.  Some of these activities lend themselves to an e-book more than others.

Simple reading of a text is obviously possible on a Kindle but that is not necessarily the most effective method of learning. When I study from a text I like to scribble over the book, make notes in the margin and summarise my thoughts in a notebook. The latest Kindles allow me to do these things but I still like to have a sheaf of paper tucked into my Kindle case to make ‘proper’ notes on. Kindles are also getting better at allowing easy look ups of articles etc whilst reading a document. That said I still generally use my smartphone to do this whilst reading on my Kindle.

The better the technology available for downloading electronic study texts, the cleverer I expect those study texts to be. Embedded question practice, links to discussion forums and the ability to share comments and notes with other readers would all be in my wish list.

Cognitive mapping

This is the one thing that might put me off e-texts.

A definition of cognitive mapping is given by Downs and Stea in Cognitive Mapping and Spatial Behavior:

“A process composed of a series of psychological transformations by which an individual acquires, codes, stores, recalls, and decodes information about the relative locations and attributes of phenomena in their everyday spatial environment.”

One basic application of this is the idea of a photographic memory. I don’t have such a memory although I am able to remember names, numbers and facts quite easily. Certainly when I was studying for professional exams I was often able to recall something by picturing it on the page. This doesn’t really work on a Kindle.

To ‘e’ or not to ‘e’ (sorry…)

In terms of effectiveness, a study by Jakob Nielsen in 2010 suggested that users read 10.7% slower on a Kindle than a paper document. I can’t help thinking this may be missing the point. If I am studying at home or at school I am likely to still study from a paper textbook. What I am looking for in an e-text is the portability that a Kindle offers. I want to be able to fill up all that wasted time I spend on trains, the tube, waiting in queues, lunch breaks etc. So if I am using previously wasted time I don’t mind that I am reading a bit slower than normal – it is still a more effective use of my time than playing about with my phone (although I normally chalk that up to technology ‘research’ anyway…). I also don’t mind that I may not remember everything I read on a mobile device. I am using these devices as a means of supplementing and enhancing my paper based study rather than replacing it.


*Other e-reader devices are available…


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