Understand better when by reading in a print book

by Jeff Gissing | @jeffgissing

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We were promised that print was dead, that it ink on paper would give way to pixels on a screen. To be sure, we do a great deal of reading online. It turns out that some types of reading are perfectly suited to a digital medium, others are not.

While school systems, universities, and libraries are increasingly purchasing digital assets it’s not always true that such a format is best for the type of reading their clients do. In fact, a review of studies has found that students understand information better when they read it in a print book.

Ironically, however, students prefer e-books even believing they performed better on them. According to “Reading on Paper and Digitally: What the Past Decades of Empirical Research Reveal” by Laura M. Singer and Patricia A. Alexander, “Students said they preferred and performed better when reading on screens. But their actual performance tended to suffer.” <link>

Findings

The researchers found the following:

  • 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.

Many committed readers will agree with this assessment. I can read pulp fiction on my Kindle. When my efforts turn to Gadamer or Aquinas, I reach for print every single time.

Resources:

“Reading on Paper and Digitally: What the Past Decades of Empirical Research Reveal” by Laura M. Singer and Patricia A. Alexander

“A new study shows that students learn way more effectively from print textbooks than screens” by Laura M. Singer and Patricia A. Alexander