Skip to main content

Digital Devices Increase Comprehension?

The mother of a HS senior just told me that her 18-year-old son can write an entire AP Lit paper on his iPhone. She suggests that our brains are changing.
With all of the concern about digital devices negatively affecting our youth, maybe the effect of using those devices has positive results that we still can't measure. Maybe our older brains aren't growing fast enough to grasp how many of our computer-capable youngsters are learning! 
I found the following abstract very interesting. What do you think?
This study explored differences that might exist in comprehension when students read digital and print texts. Ninety undergraduates read both digital and print versions of newspaper articles and book excerpts on topics of childhood ailments. Prior to reading texts in counterbalanced order, topic knowledge was assessed and students were asked to state medium preferences. After reading, students were asked to judge under which medium they comprehended best. Results demonstrated a clear preference for digital texts, and students typically predicted better comprehension when reading digitally. However, performance was not consistent with students' preferences and outcome predictions. While there were no differences across mediums when students identified the main idea of the text, students recalled key points linked to the main idea and other relevant information better when engaged with print. No differences in reading outcomes or calibration were found for newspaper or book excerpts.(Reading Across Mediums: Effects of Reading Digital and Print Texts on Comprehension and Calibration, by Lauren M. Singer & Patricia A. Alexander, The Journal of Experimental Education 2016)
Hmmmmm... Leecy


Glenda Rose's picture

I read a summary of this article not too long ago and was also surprised by the findings.  I edit papers for international colleagues who research best practices for digital texts, and they consider so many different things when planning a document, especially for younger children.  So, I think one thing that might be a factor is the way we are teaching reading strategies in print vs. what we do when we teach reading strategies on digital media.  It's just a guess; I'd love to see someone do research on that as a follow-up to this study.


Leecy's picture

Very good point, Glenda. Let's keep an eye out for that research. Maybe someone will read this thread and get to work on that!

I wonder how our reading instruction would change if we taught digital reading as a subject along with print reading. Hmmmm... As I reflect on this, I wonder if people have a preference for using print or digital text for different purposes. I might prefer one or the other, depending on purpose.  Anyone else? Leecy

Susan Finn Miller's picture

Hello Leecy, Glenda and all, This is a fascinating issue, so thanks for posting this abstract, Leecy.  I'd love to see further research on this, too.

Glenda, what are your thoughts on the different ways instructors approach teaching reading strategies when the materials are digital versus print. Would you be able to say a bit more about this?

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition and Teaching & Learning CoPs