We’ve talked before about whether print or on-screen reading is better for comprehension, with research generally showing print is more effective at initial comprehension and long-term material retention. A new study from the University of Valencia in Spain has reached the same conclusion.
For the study, researchers analyzed more than two dozen studies (almost 470,000 students) that looked at reading comprehension and were published between 2000 and 2022. Their findings suggest that, over a long period, print reading could boost comprehension skills by six to eight times more than digital reading does.
Ladislao Salmerón, a professor at the university and a co-author of the paper stated, “The association between frequency of digital reading for leisure and text comprehension abilities is close to zero.” The reason, he posits, may be that “the linguistic quality of digital texts tends to be lower than that traditionally found in printed texts.” Text found on social media platforms, for instance, may be of a more conversational tone and lack complex syntax and reasoning.
Salmerón added that the “mindset” for reading digital texts also tends to be shallower than that for printed materials, with scanning rather than reading a more common practice. Scanning, where the reader searches for particular words or phrases, doesn’t allow the reader to fully “get immersed in the narration, or … capture the complex relations in an informative text.”
The study, published in the Review of Educational Research, found another result. While there’s a negative relationship between digital reading and comprehension for primary school students, the relationship becomes more positive for secondary school and undergraduate students.
Salmerón suggests this may occur because young children can’t navigate the distractions that might come with reading on a digital device such as incoming messages. He notes that “We know that our ability to regulate our cognition evolves during adolescence …. Young children “may not be fully equipped to self-regulate their activity during digital leisure reading.”
The authors also suggested that young children who frequently engage in digital reading may learn less academic vocabulary in that critical period (grade 3) when they’re moving away from learning to read and are starting to read to learn.
 na. (December 15, 2023). “Reading print improves comprehension far more than looking at digital text, say researchers.” The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2023/dec/15/reading-print-improves-comprehension-far-more-than-looking-at-digital-text-say-researchers