According to a new meta-analysis of nearly three dozen research studies published over the past decade, reading from paper has a small, statistically significant benefit on reading performance.
One likely reason: Readers using screens tend to think they’re processing and understanding texts better then they actually are.
The study by University of North Dakota assistant education professor Virginia Clinton found that readers using paper saw better performance without having to expend more time or effort.
“Reading from screens had a negative effect on reading performance relative to paper,” according to Clinton’s study, titled “Reading From Paper Compared to Screens: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” published this year in the Journal of Research in Reading.
For years, schools have worried about the effects of digital reading on student comprehension, even as they’ve flooded classrooms with digital devices and instructional software. Those concerns have been heightened by recurring findings that students tend to score lower in English/language arts on state standardized tests when they take the exams on computers, at least in the first couple years of online test administration.
Clinton’s review included 33 independent studies involving 2,799 participants. All the studies used an experimental design with random assignment. Some of the participants were children and some were adults, but all already had foundational reading skills. All the studies were published in English, and none included participants with learning disabilities or visual impairments.
The studies’ examination of reading performance focused on comprehension, or how well participants understood what they were reading. That includes both remembering what the text said, and drawing connections based on the text.
For both literal and inferential comprehension, the advantages from reading on paper were found to be significant.
Excerpted from “Screen Reading Worse for Comprehension, Leads to Overconfidence, New Meta-analysis Concludes” in Education Week online. Read the full article or view the study abstract.