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Do Students Learn More by Reading From Paper or Screens?

Many of us have anecdotal thoughts on whether reading from a physical book or an electronic device is better. Whether it's the feel, weight or lighting, preferences vary and matter when deciding to get a textbook, for example, or the e-book version online. But price, availability and convenience aside, is one superior from a literacy and learning perspective?

Recent research seeks to determine which mode of delivery reigns supreme – paper or screen. While the results are mixed, here is what the experts have documented on both formats' applications to your classroom.

Paper Wins, by a Margin

First, recent studies acknowledge that screen-based reading is on the rise, and researchers want to know if reading comprehension and efficiency vary much between media types. According to research from a Wiley Online article, paper had better reader outcomes for expository texts only (compared to narrative). However, reader judgement of performance was better with paper books. Reading time was about the same for paper and screen.

How does this apply in a classroom setting? If paper is only slightly better, and only in specific instances, does it deserve to be prioritized over e-reader devices and computer-delivered texts? Here's how educators might use this data in real situations.

Overconfidence Can Hurt

When students have time limits to read a passage, screen reading suffers. Studies show that readers tend to overestimate their ability to read material on a screen. Often, they think they understand it more than they actually do, and this overconfidence could have consequences in testing situations.

Additionally, studies show that paper reading has students doing better in timed situations as opposed to leisure reading with no time limits. Teachers might consider the option of screen reading for research or free reading and save paper reading for testing scenarios.

Preference Really Does Matter

While paper or online delivery might be better in particular circumstances, the comfort level of the reader remains an important consideration. In a society that values literacy and urges students to continue their education into adulthood as lifelong learners, it falls to educators to help students find delight in reading by making the right tools available. A focus on learning outcomes is natural for teachers, and if students genuinely enjoy reading more from a book, why not equip them to do this?

The discussion of paper versus e-reader is just one of the many subjects that education experts have brought to the forefront recently. As technology changes how learning occurs, there will be many more.

If you are interested in learning how these studies better equip educators to maximize learning in the classroom, you may be a good fit for the Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Curriculum and Instruction – Literacy Studies online program from The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA).

Given the program's focus on equipping you with tools to teach diverse groups of students, you'll get access to the latest data and methods for today's classrooms while completing your degree in as few as 18 months.

Learn more about UTA's M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction – Literacy Studies online program.


Wiley Online Learning: Reading From Paper Compared to Screens: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

ScienceDirect: Don't Throw Away Your Printed Books: A Meta-Analysis on the Effects of Reading Media on Reading Comprehension

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