This article looked at the differences between learning by reading text on a piece of paper versus on a screen. Before 1992, there were a lot of studies that concluded that people read slower, less accurately and less comprehensively on screens than on paper. However, now many studies have found few significant differences in reading speed and comprehension.
Such studies show that screens drain more of our mental resources and make it harder to remember what we read when we are finished reading. Therefore, we comprehend less when we read on screens since it’s just more physically and mentally taxing.Paper allows reader to focus on a single page of paper without losing sight of the text, which makes it easy to form a coherent mental map of text that is not doable when reading on a screen. The limitation of navigating a text while reading on screen can impair comprehension. In Norway, a study of 72 10th students, who were given a 1500 word text to read on paper and computer, and later took a reading comprehension test showed that computer users performed a little worse than student who read on paper.
Students who read pdf files on the computer have been shown to have a more difficult time to reference text, and such reading on paper is better suited to absorb text as screens can interfere with user’s sense of control. Additionally, studies have shown that those who really wish to go into a reading, will read it on paper as oppose to on screen because it helps them understand the text with more clarity.
Furthermore, the students’ approach to reading on computers is a state of mind that is much less conducive to learning. Kate Garland did a study where she made half her students study economics material from a computer and the other from a booklet. After 20 minutes of reading, the students from both groups scored equally well. Reading on different mediums also distinguish between remembering and knowing something. Remembering is a waker form of memory that is more likely to fade unless it is converted to long-term memory. Garlands’ students who read off a computer relied more on remembering than on knowing. The students who read on paper learned the material more thoroughly and quickly.
Other studies show that people who read off a computer screen scored lower on the tests and also reported higher levels of stress and tiredness than people who completed it on paper. While they scored relatively equal on the tests, they did not do as well on the attention and working memory part of the test. Those students who read off a paper scored higher, because researchers concluded that they had a more studious state of mind, and therefor effectively directed their attention and working memory. Further, people who read on screens take a lot of shortcuts, spend more time of browsing and scanning, as oppose to people who just read a paper once.
Nonetheless, in recent surveys, it shows that most people prefer paper, but their attitudes are changing as tablets and e-books are becoming more common, so more studies must be done.