When reading, there are benefits to both digital and print. You can’t deny the convenience that comes with pulling out your phone and quickly reading up on the latest breaking news. But when you’re reading for education, print is the way to go. Print improves learning and retention. Here’s how.
Our brains process information differently depending on the medium. When reading on a screen, we tend to skim or scan the text, looking for keywords or relevant information. This behavior is known as “screen-based reading” and is associated with lower comprehension and retention rates. On the other hand, with print, we are more likely to engage in “deep reading.” With deep reading, we absorb the text more thoroughly, making connections and associations with what we already know.
Did you know that humans actually read screens in a different pattern than print? Eye-tracking research shows that we tend to read screens in an F pattern. When looking at a screen, the first part read is horizontally across the top row or upper part of the content. This is the top bar of the F. Next, our eyes tend to go across the middle of the page horizontally, like the second horizontal bar. Third, we scan content on the left in a vertical movement, along what would be the stem of the F.
This pattern shows that people are scanning rather than reading, and the content that falls along the F is what gets seen the most. Readers scanning along the F shape miss large chunks of content.
Print tends to be consumed linearly. Even when pictures are included on the page, it’s read line after line, page after page. This makes it less likely that information will be skipped over.
Print has fewer opportunities for distraction. When reading on a screen, you’re more likely to experience notifications or advertisements. Or you might want to look up a word immediately rather than figure it out from context clues, which pulls you out of the text. Print can’t ping, which means any distraction the user experiences is external.
Research has shown that reading printed materials can have a positive impact on our memory. A study of Norwegian tenth graders found that students who read printed materials retained more information than those who read digital texts. Another study found that when readers were given a short story, those who read it on a Kindle were “significantly” worse at recalling the events of the story compared to those who read it in paperback. Another researcher found that test subjects trying to learn a new subject had to re-read the information on a screen more times than on print before they got it.
The amount of eye strain depends on the item. For example, a bright phone screen produces more eye strain than an eReader designed to mimic the look of ink on paper. Screens emit blue light, which can disrupt our natural sleep cycle and cause eye fatigue. Printed materials, on the other hand, have none of these concerns. Print is far less likely to cause eye strain and fatigue. As you likely know already, eye strain and fatigue are not conducive to learning and retention.
Plus, there’s a desire among many, especially younger people, to digitally detox. Print provides this opportunity.
The ability to read long sentences is a skill. It can actually be improved with practice, or lost if it isn’t used. It can even transfer between mediums. If someone only ever skims what’s on their screen, it becomes harder for them to concentrate when reading a book.
“I worry that the superficial way we read during the day is affecting us when we have to read with more in-depth processing,” Maryanne Wolf, a Tufts University cognitive neuroscientist, told the Washington Post.
Printed materials allow for an immersive experience. The tactile sensation of turning pages and the smell of ink on paper is a full sensory experience. Even the different ways that paper feels communicates a message. This can make reading more enjoyable, which can, in turn, lead to better retention and learning.
Print comes with certain tactile cues that aid in learning and remembering. As you flip through the pages of a book, the left side starts out lighter and the right is much heavier. By the time you come to the end of the book, the left side is heavier and the right side only has a few light pages left.
Even though this often isn’t consciously noticed, it still has an effect. Physical clues like this allow us to create something of a map in our heads, which aids in retention. Ferris Jabr explained the phenomenon in Scientific American.
“We might recall that we passed the red farmhouse near the start of the trail before we started climbing uphill through the forest; in a similar way, we remember that we read about Mr. Darcy rebuffing Elizabeth Bennett on the bottom of the left-hand page in one of the earlier chapters.”
The turning of pages is akin to taking steps on a trail. Your brain has an easier time recalling information when you have a sense of where it happened.
Best of Both Worlds
Here at Walsworth, we strongly believe that print and digital aren’t enemies. Each has its own use. We even have a team that creates digital versions of our customers’ books for them. But it’s clear that print improves learning and retention. It’s the better option for educational materials. That being said, digital enhancements can help readers get the best of both worlds. A printed textbook can include a link or QR code to a video that helps illustrate the lesson.
Want to know more about how we can help you with your print and digital products? Let’s talk!