As researchers in learning and text comprehension, our recent work has focused on the differences between reading print and digital media. While new forms of classroom technology like digital textbooks are more accessible and portable, it would be wrong to assume that students will automatically be better served by digital reading simply because they prefer it….Nonetheless, some key findings emerged that shed new light on the differences between reading printed and digital content:
Students overwhelming preferred to read digitally.
Reading was significantly faster online than in print.
Students judged their comprehension as better online than in print.
Paradoxically, overall comprehension was better for print versus digital reading.
The medium didn’t matter for general questions (like understanding the main idea of the text).
But when it came to specific questions, comprehension was significantly better when participants read printed texts.
Having for years watched students completely fail to use online resources to actually understand math, and having had a front-row seat at the total inability of online resources to even remotely equal the usability of a textbook, I am 100% unsurprised by these results. (There is an exception: for rapidly looking up some detail, it’s hard to beat google.)
I am also completely unsurprised that this effect is visible outside of math.
Offhand I would suggest that “reading significantly faster online” translates smoothly to “lower comprehension of material.” Speed is not the point when wading through General Physics, or even a Sociology text. Speed is actually detrimental. Is that not obvious? How is that not obvious?
In non-math classes, I do my best to encourage struggling students to take notes out of the book. Because this will SLOW THEM DOWN and help them PAY ATTENTION, as well as encouraging a focus on what is actually important.
If required to take written notes from an online text, my strong suspicion is that students’ comprehension would go way up.
Anyway, if you find this sort of thing relevant and / or interesting, by all means click through and read the whole thing.