A previous blog compared paper-based books with digital books for reading comprehension and concluded that the former had advantages over the latter. Evidence from the past 20 years shows the advantage of paper based comprehension. (The exception: narrative-only texts.)

The blue light screens emit can cause eye strain, and the movement on the screen makes focusing more difficult. Modern screens and e-readers fail to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper.” Paper based reading recruits several senses:sight, touch, and smell, so reading text on paper requires less effort than reading on a device.   In addition, the speed of reading appears to have an effect on comprehension.  “Whether they realize it or not, many people approach computers and tablets with a different state of mind than the one they bring to paper.People tend to scan information on a digital device, so while they may pick out the main idea from a screen, they read more quickly and less carefully and may lose the details.  

The 2018 results from PISA, (Programme for International Student Assessment)  present evidence that strong readers tend to use paper books. “Students who reported reading paper books or who balance their reading time between paper and digital tend to achieve higher scores in reading than students who reported reading books on digital devices.”  A meta-analysis published in 2019 confirms this finding.

Reading from screens had a negative effect on reading performance relative to paper.  . . This may have been limited to expository texts. The findings were similar when analyzing literal and inferential reading.”  Thus, more evidence appears to reinforce the advantages that “low tech” reading provides for improved comprehension, especially when related to informational material.

Laura Maniglia