Printed or Digital Text

Jacqueline Wong

The convenience of digital-based reading, i.e., instantaneous distribution and access, has made the reading medium a widely accepted form of reading in many contexts such as workplace and schools. In the early nineties, eminent researchers, Richard E Clark and Robert Kozma, debated on whether media will influence learning. Clark’s (1994) view was that learning was influenced more by the content and instructional strategies than the type of medium while Kozma (1994) argued that media with it capabilities could potentially influence learning and is more than a vehicle of delivery. Research over the years suggest that learners comprehended better with paper-based than digital-based reading but the effects of the reading medium were moderated by time constraints and type of text (Delgado, Vargas, Ackerman, & Salmerón, 2018). Therefore, it appears that the influence of media on learning is a complex issue in which other factors have to be considered.

Recently, Latini, Bråten, Anmarkrud, and Salmerón (2019) published a paper examining the interaction between reading medium (i.e., printed vs. digital vs. mixed paper and digital) and reading purpose (i.e., exam vs. pleasure). One of the main findings was that students spent longer time reading when instructed to prepare for an important exam in the conditions where they were provided with digital and mixed texts but not in the condition where they were provided with printed texts. The authors reasoned that it could be because students perceived reading digital texts as more challenging given their preference for printed texts for study. Another finding was that students wrote longer texts when reading printed texts for exams than when reading printed texts for pleasure but no such differences were found in the digital and mixed texts conditions. In addition, better integration of the two texts provided were achieved from writing longer texts when reading printed texts for exams. Finally, students’ level of reading comprehension skills positively correlated with the outcome variables, suggesting that reading comprehension skills override the effect of reading medium on text integration. The results suggest that students seem to differentiate the purpose of their reading and the effect of the reading medium on their performance by investing more time on digital and mixed texts when studying for an exam. However, students spent as much time reading for pleasure and for exam when reading from printed texts. This raises questions on whether students are spending unnecessarily more time on digital and mixed texts than on printed text or whether the additional time invested is necessary to achieve the same performance as they would for printed text.

With digital-based reading on the rise, examining the effects of reading medium and purposes of reading is highly valuable. It is also important to take into account the individual characteristics that might moderate the effects of reading medium and reading purpose. For example, students with better reading skills might be less influenced by the reading medium and purpose than students with poorer reading skills. Furthermore, with the development of technology, digital-based reading could provide additional affordances to support learning such as taking notes and highlighting. Therefore, it will also be important to examine the effect of additional affordances provided by digital-based reading.

Clark, R. E. (1994). Media will never influence learning. Educational technology research and development42(2), 21-29.

Delgado, P., Vargas, C., Ackerman, R., & Salmerón, L. (2018). Don't throw away your printed books: A meta-analysis on the effects of reading media on reading comprehension. Educational Research Review, 23-38.

Kozma, R. B. (1994). Will media influence learning? Reframing the debate. Educational technology research and development42(2), 7-19.

Latini, N., Bråten, I., Anmarkrud, Ø., & Salmerón, L. (2019). Investigating Effects of Reading Medium and Reading Purpose on Behavioral Engagement and Textual Integration in a Multiple Text Context. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 101797.




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