Due to the pandemic, many schools have become fully online, limiting printed materials and transitioning to digital materials.
An abundance of research has found that when reading long texts, learning is somewhat more successful when the text is on paper than online. In experiments, reading print was more successful for learners when moving from simpler tasks, such as finding the main idea in a text, to more complex tasks, such as analyzing inferences from the text. In addition, there was a greater chance of remembering details specific to the text through physical print.
Many studies have found that although grade school students and college students assume that they will do better on comprehensive tests if they prepare with digital readings, they actually received higher grades when they read the test material in print prior to the test. Educational systems should be cognisant of the style of testing they use, as it may affect the results of students. For example, the results from studies of Norwegian 10th graders and American 3rd-8th graders found that scores were higher when standardized tests were given through paper.
Additionally, a professor of linguistics, along with his colleagues, had asked both high school and college students about their opinion on their own learning when they read with print, compared to using digital materials. Many students believed that reading on paper was better for concentration, learning, and memorization.
So what could the possible reasons be behind these advantages of reading print? One reason could be due to the physical properties of paper. Having something to physically hold may help stimulate certain memories of reading. Furthermore, people may remember what they have read by reflecting on how far they are in a book, or the location of it on the page. Moreover, researchers also mention a theory called a “shallowing hypothesis,” describing how people may put less mental effort into reading materials online, as they approach it in a way that is similar to interacting with social media.
Regardless of the advantages of print over online materials, there has been a significant shift to digital materials over the course of the past year. Due to the virtual learning taking place during this pandemic, there has been a greater increase in the use of videos and audios for students, such as podcasts, Youtube videos, and pre-recorded lessons. In general, many educators lean towards audio/video as being more exciting than text, and further, many students also just do not do the assigned readings. A study in 2015 found that only 21% finished all their assigned course readings.
Ultimately, reading in print rather than using digital materials helps to optimize mental focus, maximize concentration, and helps with the successful analysis of texts. This is to however not undermine the importance of videos, audio, and online reading materials during this pandemic. They have helped to provide a bridge between students and learning. However, the limitations of these types of materials must be considered by educators, who may want to consider the format of learning materials they are giving to their students.