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By 20 October 2017 | Categories: news

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A bit of bad news for students who study on-screen. Research done by Professor Patricia Alexander and Lauren Singer of the University of Maryland found that comprehension suffers when text is read on-screen. In an article published for The Conversation, they discuss three studies they did to look at how students’ comprehension of information differed when garnered from screens and from paper.

It revealed that even though students overwhelming preferred reading text digitally, while also being much faster doing so, comprehension for print was better than that of digital. After answering general questions on the text read, there wasn’t a noticeable difference between on-screen or printed text, but students’ comprehension was “significantly” better for printed text.

Alexander and Singer go on to provide a number of lessons they believe should be taken into account by policymakers, parents, students and teachers.

Firstly, to consider the purpose of why the reading is done, and that the medium should be adjusted accordingly. Secondly, the task at hand must be examined, adjusting to printed text if deeper comprehension is required.

Interestingly, the study also pointed out a group of students’ whose reading speed declined when moving to on-screen, but whose comprehension increased. This highlights the third point, namely that the “ease of engaging with the digital text” might be a problem, and that gliding through online texts should be avoided.

Finally, Alexander and Singer state that even though there are both economic and environmental reasons to switch to digital, the effect of things like penciled in side-notes on well-studied handbooks or novels, can’t be measured.

“There should probably always be a place for print in students' academic lives -- no matter how technologically savvy they become,” they note.

Have you found a significant difference in comprehension between digital and paper-based text? Let us know in the comments section below.  

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