University of Valencia logo Logo Interdisciplinary Research Structure for Reading Logo del portal

We understand worse when we read in digital format than in paper

  • May 1st, 2018
logo E-READ

On April 28, 2018 appeared in the newspaper El País a summary of the recent project of the ERI reading on reading in digital format and on paper.

What follows is the complete interview for the newspaper, which was summarized in the final article.

- Between what ages are the children studied (150,000 students   referrals) in the meta-analysis carried out.


First , we would like to clarify that a meta-analysis is a statistical review study in which the results of all the research work that has been carried out during a given period of time on the same object of study are included, in our case: the possible difference in the level of reading comprehension between reading on paper and reading on digital devices, from January 2000 to May 2017. Therefore, it is necessary differentiate between own studies included and the total number of people who participated in the studies and form part, indirectly, our meta-analysis. To illustrate, propond r e have a fictional situation:


Suppose we have a meta-analysis with 5 studies in total (no meta-analysis is done with so few studies, it's simply a simplified example). Of these 5 studies, 4 have been done with university students and only 1 with elementary students. We would have 5 different results, and 80% of them would have been achieved with university students. However , these four studies with university students total a total of 300 participants, while the study with primary students was conducted with 1 . 200 children So , if we look at the total number of participants included in the meta-analysis , we would be in the opposite situation: 80% of the people would be primary school students.


This is important, since something similar occurs in our study. On the one hand, most of the included studies (approximately 60% of the total of the 54 studies ) have been made with samples of university students . On the other hand, most of the participants are primary and secondary students, because of the total of 170,000 participants (approx.) , Just over 160,000 correspond to 3 large-scale studies conducted in this population .


Responding more specifically to the question, the ages of people who have been part of the included studies range from students of equivalent courses to first of Primary (6-7 years) to adults who are pursuing post-graduate studies and even professionals. . If we look at the results provided by each of the included studies, just over 60% come from samples of university students. However , more than 90% of the participants correspond to college and high school students, distributed approximately equally among students of Primary (6-12 years) and Secondary (12 -18 years ) .


- As you comment, younger generations understand worse in digital formats than the older ones: is it a matter of maturity? That is to say, as the years go by, people focus better on digital and therefore he understands better what he reads or sees there.


We are not referring to younger people, but to new generations. It is not a matter of individual evolution (maturation), but of the evolution of the population as a whole. And, contrary to what you propose, what we find is that the people of these more recent generations show a greater inferiority in the digital reading comprehension . That is, the difference in reading comprehension between both reading media would be higher in university students in 2016 than in students of this same level of education in 2005.


This result is to some extent contrary to what one would intuitively think . It could be assumed that the most recent generations, whose members have grown from their first days in a "more digital" world , would have better reading comprehension in digital media is because they are more versed in the use of this technology . However, it does not seem the case, but the opposite: these new generations read worse when the format is digital. It seems that the more widespread the use of digital devices is, and therefore the earlier and greater is the experience with them, the inferiority of screen reading increases .


The inferiority we find in reading comprehension in digital media shows a small effect, but it is significant. It is the expected thing, it would not fit to think that we are going to lose our reading ability in a high degree due to the change of reading medium. But it is important to note that the effect found and s even something greater than some reported by other studies meta-analysis reviewing the results you will benefici effects of educational interventions through new technologies.



- Is distraction the only reason that explains this situation to your trial or is there more?


What explains this apparent inferiority of reading on the screen is something that we do not yet know. There are different hypotheses and probably several factors are involved. One line of work that offers a plausible explanation is that carried out by the Israeli researcher Rakefet Ackerman and his research group. The results of several studies that have been carried out suggest that processes of cognitive self-regulation are depleted when faced in the digital format with demanding tasks such as reading. Simplifying, it seems that difficulties appear to identify the degree of difficulty of the task and, especially, to assess the level of understanding or learning that we achieve after reading texts when we do it in the digital format. These difficulties appear in most cases when the participants have a limited time to perform the task, and this is something that we have also found in our meta-analysis: those studies that imposed a time limit on the participants offer worse results for reading in digital format. This is consistent with the hypothesis of difficulties in the processes of cognitive self- regulation, since these processes play a more decisive role when we have limited time and, therefore, we must decide how to distribute our efforts.


The previous hypothesis is in clear relationship with other ideas , such as those exposed by Nicholas Carr , who warns that reading in digital media, especially on the Internet, is leading us to a more superficial reading, motivated by the large amount of information to the that we access on the Internet, and how we access it, since we usually read in an accelerated way , passing very quickly from one text to another, from one news to another, from one comment on Twitter to another. This would lead us to be more prone to distractions and to have difficulties to read in depth and concentrate on long texts, which in turn could be related to the aforementioned author regulation deficits .


Other explanations revolve around ergonomic issues, such as a possible negative effect of the brightness of the screen, which would result in greater fatigue during reading, or a greater difficulty to build a mental image of the structure of the text due to the different organization of the information in the digital medium. Even other authors point out that the experience of reading in printed format implies much more to our body, for example, by the fact of counting between our hands with a book, controlling the pages with our sense of touch , which would make the reading process much more enveloping, facilitating concentration.



- Despite the results of the investigation, does nothing contribute digital, given its greater capacity to offer not only texts, but video, sound and the ability to interact?


At this point it is necessary to clarify that our meta-analysis only includes those studies that used digital texts that did not have that type of features or possibilities that are unique to the digital format. Our intention was to isolate, as far as possible, the e fect of the medium per se. The only exclusive feature of the digital format that could include was the need to " scroll " to move forward or backward through the text, that is, up and down using a sidebar or the mouse wheel. Even so, this factor is included when studying possible moderating variables of the effect of the medium (such as the time available for reading, mentioned above). Although we have found that in those cases in which it was necessary to " scroll " the inferiority of the digital reading was somewhat higher than in those studies that did not use this tool (that is, each page of the text or the entire text was seen in its entirety). on the screen) , this difference was not statistically significant, so it seems that the fact that it is necessary to scroll does not seem decisive.


Answering the question, it is evident that the possibilities of presenting information in the digital medium offer a wider range of opportunities than printed texts, both in the presentation of information and in the possibilities of interactivity. Now, it is not clear under what circumstances this may be beneficial or, on the contrary, it may be a problem. However, it seems plausible to argue that having a greater number of qualitatively different tools, formats, and interaction possibilities, makes it necessary for people to learn to use them, learn to access and manage information in this new context. And in this regard, it seems that the introduction of new technologies in educational systems, in itself , does not guarantee such learning. There are few studies that warn that today's young people are generally not good at handling information in the digital medium. More than two years ago, the director of the education section of the OECD , Andreas Schleicher , who is responsible for the international program of educational evaluation PISA, said in an interview that the marriage between education and new technologies, so far, not is meeting the high expectations generated. What is clear is that, beyond their inclusion in the classroom, what is really important is how and for what they are used, and this is where it is necessary to influence the educational community to take advantage of new opportunities and, more importantly, to shape well to students in this area.


- The research was conducted from your university (did you just do it the scholar Pablo Delgado?) or was something coordinated with other universities.   I say this because the students who intervened come from 10 countries ...


As we have already explained, the fact that the participants were of different nationalities is due to the fact that being a meta-analysis, we have included studies that have been carried out in different countries. Even so , although Pablo Delgado is the first author , as a researcher In training funded by the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, this work is also part of the European Program of Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST), specifically within the project Evolution of reading in the age of digitization (E- Read ) . Thus, in addition to two other researchers from the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Valencia, Crist ina Vargas and Ladislao Salmerón ( the latter as supervisor of the work), the study is also signed by the aforementioned Israeli researcher, Rakefet Ackerman . In addition, we have had the collaboration of other researchers from universities in Greece and Israel.


- What is your conclusion: should the increasing pres- sure of digital media in education be restrained until it is better adjusted? involvement of technology in the classroom. Or should follow the coexistence of paper and the digital or it would be convenient to rescue a greater protagonism or inclus or the exclusivity of the paper?


Stopping the presence of digital technology in the classroom, given our new digital order, is unrealistic. Moreover, the digital medium is increasingly, if possible, the main means of information and work tools. Therefore, educational systems can not avoid the task of educating students and training them to handle information in these media. Although, as we have already said, it does not seem that its mere massive inclusion is enough. It is necessary to focus efforts on how and for what we use them. This is where it is necessary to deepen, both from the research and from the educational practice, to get to understand which are the circumstances that favor the development of the already famous "digital competence". Unfortunately, educational systems around the world tend to include innovations without knowing if they really work and, what is worse, the results are usually not evaluated after such inclusion. We can not allow this situation to continue to be maintained regarding the inclusion of new technologies in a world totally immersed in the digital era.  

- The influence of technology is so great and grows so fast in all the orders of life that it seems complicated that the students can have a digital existence outside the classroom and a more traditional one in the educational centers.


As we just explained, the educational systems , the classrooms, neither can nor should stay out of this situation. What is imperatively necessary is that educational practices are based on the evidence found by previous research or educational practices . O well, if what is intended is to introduce very novel methods or tools, of which there is not enough evidence, it must be an obligation report in detail how and for what it was done and, of course, evaluate the results. The educational community offers a very important service to citizens, on which their future depends, and the responsibility and honesty of its professional actors must be the cornerstone. Not only is it important to innovate in education, it is also necessary to be accountable in every way.