Digital Planners vs Physical Planners: What’s Best for Students?

Schools are always looking for ways to help students get organised and student planners are a classic tool. But with technology constantly evolving, figuring out the best format – physical or digital – can be tricky. 

Should schools follow a traditional approach, embrace the digital space, or find a way to use both? 

Paper vs Electronic Planners: The Basics

Both traditional and digital planners provide a framework for students to organise assignments, manage time and keep track of school events and activities. However, their functionality differs significantly:

Paper Student Planners

A physical student planner is a bound book with pre-structured pages and sections for organisation. It’s the more tried-and-trusted way of keeping track of important dates, deadlines and tasks. Within a physical planner, you’ll find:

  • Term and school year calendars
  • Daily or weekly schedule layouts
  • Note-taking spaces

More comprehensive paper planners also provide goal-setting, self-reflection and skills development sections.

Electronic Student Planners

There’s no denying the growing influence of technology in regards to student organisation. Digital planning tools are essentially apps or software designed to replicate the functions of a traditional planner within a digital space. They work on multiple devices, usually with the ability to sync information across:

  • Smartphones
  • Tablets
  • Laptops
  • Smartwatches

Feature Differences

Here’s a student planner features comparison to help you decide which planner type would be best:

Schedule Viewing

Most digital planners have calendar integration and allow viewing schedules by day, week, month, etc. Contemporary physical planners often offer similar daily, weekly and monthly overviews. However, paper planners also allow at-a-glance scanning of the whole term without scrolling.

Assignment Tracking and Reminders

Digital planners let you add tasks quickly and set reminders wherever you are. They easily set reminders that pop up right on the device. Physical planners require students to remember to check them regularly for deadlines. However, the satisfaction of physically crossing off a finished task in a paper planner remains unmatched for many!


Physical planner customisation is one of their strong suits. This boosts engagement and makes the planner the student’s own. Learners can:

  • Highlight important information
  • Colour-code different sections
  • Doodle
  • Use stickers
  • Tape in items like motivational quotes

Digital planners usually also offer some customisation options like font types and colours, but they can’t compete with the freedom of pen and paper.


Paper planners let you jot down notes, ideas, mind maps and sketches with complete freedom of layout and form. Digital planners allow you to type notes, but sometimes, it doesn’t feel as natural, especially for quick brainstorming sessions.

Weighing the Pros and Cons

The tables below summarise the main strengths and weaknesses of a typical physical planner compared to a digital one:

Physical Planners

It can be used anywhere, anytime: They don’t require devices, charged batteries or WiFiNo automatic reminders: They require manual note-taking for reminders
Tactile benefits: Physically writing things down improves memory and retentionSome functional limitations: Content can’t be automatically duplicated or shared unless done in person
Reduced distractions: Free from digital temptations, they encourage dedicated planning time
Enhanced creativity: There are many customisation options, like colour-coding, stickers and visuals
Benefits all ages: They are suitable for young and older students alike
Greener option: Paper is highly sustainable and recyclable, unlike energy-intensive electronics that require rare Earth metals

Digital Planners

Accessibility: Accessible anywhere with an internet connectionDistraction: Students may get distracted by social media or games on their electronic devices
Integration: They sync with other productivity apps and calendars for a centralised hubUsage limitations: They rely on internet connectivity and device battery life
Collaboration: Students can easily share calendars and classwork with friends or group membersLimited customisation: Less personalised compared to physical planners
Cost: Some premium apps require subscriptions, adding to the overall cost
Not suitable for all ages: Younger students may lack digital access or tech skills

Blending Traditional and Modern Planning Approaches

The traditional vs. modern planning debate doesn’t have to be an either/or decision. Pairing the benefits of physical planners with essential tech-savvy study habits from digital tools offers the best of both worlds.

Here’s how educators can make this work:

  • Note-taking: Encourage students to use paper planners for in-class notes, then transfer key notes to digital systems for backup and easy searching.
  • Reminders: Combine paper planner deadlines with device reminders to ensure nothing falls through the cracks.
  • Collaboration: Use digital calendars to plan group study sessions or project work while logging progress in physical planners.
  • Responsibility: Guide students in responsible device use for schoolwork, avoiding distractions by turning off non-essential notifications.

Penstripe: Where Trusted Traditions Meet Modern Innovations

In the physical planner vs. digital debate, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for schools. The mix of paper planning with targeted tech use is often the most helpful in setting students up for success.

This is the inspiration behind Penstripe’s bespoke student planners. Our paper planners offer exceptional customisation, allowing schools to integrate the technology that best supports their programmes. Moreover, we can incorporate reference materials for exam prep, skills development pages and well-being insights to support students’ holistic development.

If you’d like more information or a student planner sample, contact us online today. You can also reach us by calling 0113 231 0995 or emailing