When reading to learn, what medium works best?

The pandemic necessitated a sudden and massive shift to online education last year. Students were forced to access much of their school reading assignments digitally. A host of research comparing print and digital reading points to the same conclusion — print matters.

For most students, print is the most effective way to learn and retain knowledge long-term. When accessing reading comprehension, researchers typically ask students to read passages, then answer questions. Students generally perform better on comprehension tests when reading print passages longer than 500 words

Print reading is especially effective when responses require inferences, details about the text or recalling when or where in a story an event took place. Education Week reports that “among young adults who regularly use smartphones and tablets, just reading a story or performing a task on a screen instead of on paper led to greater focus on concrete details, but less ability to infer meaning or quickly get the gist of a problem.” Less ability to infer meaning or quickly get to the core of a problem can greatly inhibit a student’s ability to retain key messages, react to a challenge or assignment, or meaningfully contribute to classroom or group discussions.

There’s a pressing need to rethink the balance between print and digital learning tools. When choosing educational materials, educators — and parents — have to consider many factors, including subject matter, cost, and convenience. However, it’s also important to remember that research findings usually tip the scales toward print as a more effective learning tool.


Subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter IMPRESSIONS