College students keep telling anyone who’ll listen that it’s easier to study from a print textbook than a digital one. There’s a growing body of scientific evidence to back that up, according to an article in The New Yorker magazine.
Many researchers are considering the impact of digital reading, including Maryanne Wolf, who has spent years studying the development of brain comprehension as reading media have changed over the centuries.
Since the recent rise of digital materials, Wolf has seen a rapid decline in “deep reading”—the kind students need to fully understand and retain subject matter. She’s gotten letters from college and university professors concerned that their students couldn’t master the course topic because they were simply skimming the reading on-screen.
Several studies determined people read more quickly on an electronic screen, and therefore tend to think less about the topic as they go. That, in turn, means they don’t retain as much. Links embedded in digital materials, which are intended to provide a richer reading experience by connecting directly to additional information, actually ended up interrupting the flow of reading and sidetracked the reader’s mental processes.
However, a new study with fifth-graders showed that annotation tools, which are included with most reading apps and mobile devices, can help improve digital reading considerably, provided that students are taught how to use the tools. Students who highlighted, added notes, and bookmarked pages were able to engage more deeply with the content and remember what they’d read.