Reading & Literacy

Remembering What You Read: Print vs. Digital Books

By Francesca Duffy — March 16, 2012 1 min read

According to Time.com, a few studies out there have found that readers may have an easier time remembering and digesting the material in a text when it’s in print versus a digital format. The article ironically coincides with Encyclopedia Britannica‘s announcement that it will be ceasing its print edition and solely focusing on the digital encyclopedia.

According to the Time.com author, Maia Szalavitz, Google co-founder Larry Page has expressed concern over research showing digital reading to be “measurably slower than reading on paper.” Szalavitz also cites a study in which psychology students reading print absorbed content more fully and quickly than those reading on a computer.

In addition, remembering “whether you read something at the top or the bottom” of a page makes a difference in helping to recall important facts, writes Szalavitz. Because e-books don’t have the same “spatial landmarks” that print books have, some scientists suggest that readers of online screens remember less of what they read. According to Jakob Nielsen, Web “usability” expert and principal of the Nielsen Norman Group, flipping through the pages of a book is also “less mentally taxing” than scrolling back or searching by typing to find a certain point in a text.

While Szalavitz points out that “different media have different strengths,” and that e-textbooks can offer real advantages, she emphasizes that when it comes to learning and retaining complex ideas and concepts, print books might be the way to go. Does this ring true with what you’ve seen in the classroom? Any chance this will affect the type of reading you do with students?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.