Thursday, June 13, 2013

E-Readers vs Paper vs Screen

A piece by The Atlantic today, based on this study, finds people who used e-readers and computer screens did as well as those who read paper in reading comprehension.

The research, published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, features the intensive study of the college freshman -- which as everyone knows only vaguely resemble humans.  Ninety of 'em, ages 18 to 25, were randomly assigned to one of three conditions (Kindle, computer, paper) to read "five expository texts and five narrative texts."  These were high school level writing, about 500 words each. 

Previous research tends to find print superior to other versions.  The hook in this study, the headline, is that they found no differences.  In other words, it's a rare case of non-results becoming published results (if you care and can access it, read the pdf of the study).  The authors note, of course, the limitations of the study: reliance on college kids, the artificial nature of the experiment.  But, they note:
From an educational and classroom perspective, these results are comforting. While new technologies have sometimes been seen as disruptive, these results indicate that students’ comprehension does not necessarily suffer, regardless of the format from which they read their text. This knowledge informs educators and encourages the adoption of new strategies, by students, teachers, professors, and schools alike.
It may very well be that younger readers, more attuned to digital reading, do get as much if not more from a story via e-reader/screen than paper. I'm not buying it yet, not on the basis of these 90 kids, despite it being a nice, clean experiment.  Previous research and theory suggests paper will remain superior for some time -- at least in how well people learn from the written word.

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