Hillcroft LRC

Reading – on-screen versus print

Posted on: February 27, 2017

book-v-tabletIt is interesting in education (including at Hillcroft), how we push our students to read more materials online. Essentially, this is for three reasons. The first is preparing our students for university life where they will encounter even more electronic resources, the second is building up digital skills for university/working life, the third is using material 24/7 on and offsite and the fourth is sustainability (saving paper).

A short article in last week’s New Scientist by Emma Young intrigued us as although it was essentially about finding better ways to read in the digital age, it also provided some of the latest thinking about on-screen versus print reading. We’ve used the word ‘thinking’ as there is a lack of meaningful data on how and why people read on screens. The article quotes from two experts in the field of linguistics – Anne Mangen from the Reading Centre at the University of Stavanger, Norway and Naomi Baron at the Department of Language and Foreign Studies at the American University in Washington, D.C.

The keys points they were making (based on U.S. data) are:

  • The reading of print books is declining with a corresponding rise in ebooks although ebook sales are slowing possibly due to cost.
  • Anecdotal evidence suggests people find it harder to read PDFs as it is more difficult to navigate compared to print text. Contextual markers are missing on electronic pages so if a reader wanted to go back to pick up on something requiring clarification, finding it three-quarters of the way down the page is tricky.
  • It is probably better to read complex material in print.
  • Progress on a tablet (for fiction) is not the same as tactile progress through a paperback.
  • When using ‘find’ on an electronic device, the results are too specific so the reader does not benefit from the broader text.
  • There are good points with electronic devices particularly the ability to change and enlarge the font.
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