Does preference for technology result in better learning for students? Think again.

Kids are growing up under the influence of smartphones, tablets and e-readers. Soon we are witnessing more investment in classroom technologies. Some of the students are now equipped with school-issued iPads and access to e-textbooks.

It is assumed that students’ familiarity and preference for technology translates into better learning outcomes. But think again!

A recent research shows that “it would be wrong to assume that students will automatically be better served by digital reading simply because they prefer it”.

Speed – at a cost

The research highlights a significant discrepancy. “Students said they preferred and performed better when reading on screens. But their actual performance tended to suffer”, the research says.

From the research done since 1992 by the team, it is observed that “students were able to better comprehend information in print for texts that were more than a page in length”. This appears to be related to the disruptive effect that scrolling has on comprehension.

To further look into and discover pattern, the research team conducted three studies that explored college students’ ability to comprehend information on paper and from screens.

Students were first asked to rate their medium preferences.

After reading two passages, one online and one in print, these students then completed three tasks:

Describe the main idea of the texts.

List key points covered in the readings.

Provide any other relevant content they could recall.

When they were done, we asked them to judge their comprehension performance.

Across the studies, the texts differed in length, and other relevant data was collected (e.g., reading time).

Even so, some key findings emerged. They revealed the differences between reading printed and digital content:

Students overwhelming preferred to read digitally.

Reading was significantly faster online than in print.

Students judged their comprehension as better online than in print.

Paradoxically, overall comprehension was better for print versus digital reading.

The medium didn’t matter for general questions (like understanding the main idea of the text).

But when it came to specific questions, comprehension was significantly better when participants read printed texts.

Placing print in perspective

These findings are lessons that can be conveyed to policymakers, teachers, parents and students about print’s place in an increasingly digital world.

  1. Consider the purpose

“We all read for many reasons. Sometimes we’re looking for an answer to a very specific question. Other times, we want to browse a newspaper for today’s headlines”.

“As we’re about to pick up an article or text in a printed or digital format, we should keep in mind why we’re reading. There’s likely to be a difference in which medium works best for which purpose”.

“In other words, there’s no “one medium fits all” approach”.

  1. Analyze the task

One of the most consistent findings from this research is that, for some tasks, medium doesn’t seem to matter. If all students are being asked to do is to understand and remember the big idea or gist of what they’re reading, there’s no benefit in selecting one medium over another.

But when the reading assignment demands more engagement or deeper comprehension, students may be better off reading print.

Teachers could make students aware that their ability to comprehend the assignment may be influenced by the medium they choose.

This awareness could lessen the discrepancy witnessed in students’ judgements of their performance vis-à-vis how they actually performed.

  1. Slow it down

In the third experiment, meaningful profiles were created of college students based on the way they read and comprehended from printed and digital texts.

Among those profiles, it was found a select group of undergraduates who actually comprehended better when they moved from print to digital.

What distinguished this atypical group was that they actually read slower when the text was on the computer than when it was in a book. In other words, they didn’t take the ease of engaging with the digital text for granted. Using this select group as a model, students could possibly be taught or directed to fight the tendency to glide through online texts.

  1. Something that can’t be measured

There may be economic and environmental reasons to go paperless. But there’s clearly something important that would be lost with print’s demise.

In our academic lives, we have books and articles that we regularly return to. The dog-eared pages of these treasured readings contain lines of text etched with questions or reflections. It’s difficult to imagine a similar level of engagement with a digital text.

There should probably always be a place for print in students’ academic lives – no matter how technologically savvy they become.

Of course, the research acknowledges that “the march toward online reading will continue unabated. And we don’t want to downplay the many conveniences of online texts, which include breadth and speed of access”.

Rather, our goal is simply to remind today’s digital natives – and those who shape their educational experiences – that there are significant costs and consequences to discounting the printed word’s value for learning and academic development.

Source : World Economic Forum