Will you remember what you’re reading now?

Blank Book

Digital books or e-books are becoming more and more popular but evidence is mounting that we may not actually be remembering what we read in them. This article in Time Healthland suggests that we all struggle to remember what we read onscreen and makes some interesting sugestions as to why this happens.

It’s a well-cited statistic in e-learning that onscreen reading is at least 10% slower than reading on paper and writers know that sentences need to be shorter and simpler when written for onscreen-reading. The reasons for this are not fully understood but could be quite complex. Various ideas have been put forward as to why reading on screen is a different experience such as quality of type and pixilation, the background light from a screen causing mild eye-strain and the position in which one sits when reading.

This article in Time Healthland looks at research carried out by Kate Garland at the University of Leicester who found out that over the long-term, students who study using traditionally printed books found it easier to recall information and needed fewer repetitions to absorb the same information. It is suggested that it may be because the mind is remembering where information is on a printed page (bottom left, middle near the margin, etc.) and it gives the brain an extra ‘hook’ to associate into the memory.

So why don’t we remember information in e-books as easily? Well, the pages scroll so there’s no top or bottom, the print can be resized so left and right can change, and there are no page numbers or physical sensation as to how far we are through the book. Also, scrolling back or forwards through content is more distracting and mentally taxing that flipping through pages and anything that taxes the brain even a small amount reduces the brain’s capacity to operate and remember.

Does that mean e-books are doomed? No, they will always have a space, weight and cost advantage over the printed book, but it may be that, particularly in education, we find some courses are best delivered using printed materials and paper books.

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