Digital study guides gain in popularity

With smart phones and now tablet computers like the iPad, students have so much more information at their fingertips, including digital study guides that can make it easier to study, or to avoid real studying.

At this time of year, students are buying textbooks and looking for ways to avoid reading them.

Nothing is new about that. CliffsNotes guides, with their familiar yellow and black covers, have been in book bags since 1958.

What has changed is how many study guides, or cheat sheets, are available online and on mobile phones. Whether you know them as CliffsNotes, SparkNotes or Shmoop, these seemingly ubiquitous guides are now, in many cases, free.

“Two to three years ago, the wisdom was that students do research online, but not study online,” said Emily Sawtell, a founder of McGraw-Hill’s online collaborative study site called GradeGuru. “That has changed in the last 12 months.” Ms. Sawtell said she had tracked a significant increase in the search term “study guide” on Google.

All in all, this is a net plus, as access to information is always a good thing, though it can obviously be abused. The real challenge is to train younger students how to focus on a subject without distractions so real learning takes place.

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