Naomi Baron wrote an interesting article in Phi Delta Kappan, Reading in a digital age. She has also written a book on the topic, Words On Screen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World.
In her article she summarizes a research study of over 400 university students from various countries on their preferences for reading from print or a digital device. They were asked a series of questions that covered issues related to cost, length of the text, and many more. Here is a brief summary of what she found (page 17-18).
- Time spent reading: whether for school work or pleasure, 66% of students preferred reading in print versus a digital device. There was some variation from country to country.
- Cost: 80% of participants said that if cost were the same they would prefer to read from print. The cost of textbooks and books can make reading from print more challenging so many people turn to digital sources.
- Rereading: 60% of participants were more likely to reread for better understanding if they were reading from print.
- Text Length: Over 75% of participants prefer print when the length of the text is longer.
- Multitasking: Most participants reported preferring digital devices when they want to multitask. In the US, 85% of respondents reported multitasking when reading on digital devices.
- Concentration: 92% of participants felt that it was easier to concentrate when reading from print.
What does this mean for teachers, designing lessons and curriculum, for K-12 classrooms? While Baron’s participants were university students, we could extrapolate that the similar findings would probably be found with younger students. Certainly, we know that using digital devices can be very distracting for students (see my blog post, Technology and the distracted mind). If digital devices are distracting, it might important for teachers to think seriously about how frequently and when they assign reading from digital devices, whether articles, books, or essays. If we want students to interact with their reading, understanding at a deeper level what they read, we may want to think about assigning it in a print version.