Despite the availability and cost savings of digital texts, studies indicate that students absorb more information when reading text on paper rather than on screens, according to The Hechinger Report. The most recent analysis was conducted by Virginia Clinton, an assistant professor of education at the University of North Dakota.
Her results indicate that retention after reading printed text improves more than a fifth of a standard deviation. This finding is at odds with many districts' plans to move into a fully digital environment. Digital textbooks are gaining popularity because they save environmental resources and money.
Spending on curriculum materials and textbooks has decreased as more digital textbooks are becoming available. However, the growing evidence beg the question of whether or not those cost savings are worth it the risk of not retaining as much information.
Moving textbooks from print to digital formats makes sense financially. Many districts are moving towards a “paper-free” environment and that includes curriculum materials. Unfortunately, mounting evidence indicates that performance drops when students learn on a screen.
Though there are economic and environmental reasons to be paper-free, research finds that scrolling tends to have a disruptive effect on students’ comprehension.
Lauren Singer, a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland (UM), says that reading on a computer screen requires a different set of skills than reading text on paper. Working with UM Professor Patricia Alexander, Singer found that readers don’t comprehend long text as well when it is read digitally.
Singer suggests that educators train students to slow down while reading digitally in an effort to improve their comprehension. She also suggests educators train students to answer questions about the content after each chapter.
Clinton recommends giving students the choice between using digital or printed materials. Some students consider digital reading as a more casual setting for social media. Printed textbooks command more respect so students will often put forth more effort when reading the printed material.