Would you rather read on screen or on paper?

You have a 30 page document which you really need to get to grips with that has been emailed to you.  Would you choose to read it on screen or would you print it off?

Personally I have always preferred to print off longer documents to read them.  According to Marc Prensky this makes me a digital immigrant but it is just what I prefer.  I have even been known to use my pen or finger to keep my place in on screen reading by placing them on, my now quite sticky, screen.  I have never really thought about why I do this.

Research into on screen reading suggests several things:

  • reading on paper is up to 25% faster but this may depend upon size of font and the contrast between the text and the background
  • when reading on paper there are some physical things that we do that help keep us on track and keep the bigger picture in mind such as pointing to text, not being distracted by other things on the page or computer (incoming emails)
  • that our eye movements differ when reading on screen, scanning in an F shape starting at the top of the screen

This christmas saw the rise in number of e-readers purchased so reading digitally is not going to go away.  In fact it would be important for us not to make the same mistake that the  music industry made and ignore what was going on digitally.  We also need to see this change in habits not as a black and white process: paper – good, on screen – bad.  We need to engage with the emerging research and discover what works best for us and our pupils.  I leave you with the following questions:

  • Is there a difference between reading fiction and non-fiction on screen?
  • Are there some types of reading that are better on screen – choose your own adventure type stories or others that are not in a linear fashion?  In fact is there such a thing as digital fiction or is it all just written in paper format and then produced on screen?
  • What should we be doing with the children in our classes?

With many thanks to Paul Nichols who sent me an article that set me off thinking about this issue.

Image Our Escape  by Felipe Morin under the Creative Commons Licence

3 thoughts on “Would you rather read on screen or on paper?

  1. Great post Joy.

    The article by Naomi Alderman makes some interesting points, but recent evidence suggests that amongst young adults, the opposite is true. Young adults are in fact reading more, according to a Scholastic report released late last year. “High frequency internet users” particularly, are an increasingly significant portion of young adults, and twice as likely to read a book for fun every day.

    Reading is such a pleasurably tactile experience, and as yet there are few devices that come anywhere close. Digital ink products like the Kindle are of course, a step in that direction, but they will never have the smell or texture of a book. There are some things you just can’t replicate. Perhaps these young adults increasingly need the release from their online lives that a book can offer?

    We retain far less material when reading online, we skim and skip through data. We are distracted easily and are far more impulsive (I worked in web usability in a previous life, studying the reading habits of candidates reading online and … well … it’s disturbing how distrait people are online.).

    Having said all that, digital stories are still in their infancy, and though they will never replace the experience of reading a printed novel, they can offer a similar sense of immersion. In the same way that gamers can spend endless engrossing hours online, digital story readers will I hope, ultimately enjoy the same absorbing reading experience as a good book.

    Martin Jorgensen


    • Thanks Martin. I have found some digital fiction which totally blew my mind and was a refreshing experience having waded through rather a lot of inane stuff produced for children. (Will blog about it in next post)
      What I am looking for is digital fiction that has the depth and complexity that I find in books. This is a comment more on the quality of writing rather than the form it appears in. I can’t find much.

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