Monday, January 15, 2007

Paper still beats electronic in 2007!

Catchy title eh? A colleague and I (thanks Susan!) just wrapped up a very small study with some graduate students at the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) and the results were quite interesting. First, let me briefly explain the scenario and method. We selected one graduate course in the Masters of Arts in Defence Management and Policy programme and it had 7 people enrolled for the Fall 2006 semester. This course was offered at a distance using WebCT as an LMS. Students were provided with a paper-based package of course notes free of charge. They were required to purchase 6 textbooks and 2 readers (i.e. collections of scholarly articles). One reader was paper-based while the other reader was electronic-based. Our experiment was to try to measure which type of reader students preferred. For this experiment, we offered the electronic-based reader at a 20% lower price than the paper-based reader. The electronic-based reader was a professionally done product through collaboration with Access Copyright and VitalSource. Near the end of the course, students were administered an anonymous questionnaire which gathered data on the readers and how they used them. 5 of 7 the students chose to complete the survey.

Here are some of the most interesting results.

When asked ‘which reader they preferred to use’, 100% said they preferred the paper-based.

When asked ‘If you had a choice between purchasing a reader in a paper-based format for full price (say $70) or the same reader in a discounted electronic-based format (say a 20% discount), which would you purchase’ 80% of students said they would purchase the paper-based reader.

When asked how much of the electronic-based reader they printed, three students said they printed more than 60% of the reader (Note that 60%+ represents 240+ pages of printing). One student said they printed between 40-60% and one student printed between 10-20% of the reader.

When asked what were the reasons for printing pages from the electronic reader, 100% of students stated two reasons: i) ‘I printed pages because I prefer reading on paper instead of the screen’, and ii) ‘I printed pages because it was easy to transport the printed readings between two or more physical locations (i.e. example: home, work, library, coffee shop, etc.)’ 80% of students stated this reason for printing pages: ‘I printed pages because I always print all course materials’. It is interesting to note that only 1 student stated ‘I printed pages because I had limited Internet/computer access.’

I realize that the sample size is very small here and the target market is not the typical graduate student in Canada. At RMC, most graduate students in the Masters of Arts in Defence Management and Policy are either military members or associated with the Department of National Defence in some way. However, based on these results I will default to recommending the creation of paper-based readers for the courses I design in this programme in the future.

No comments: