The difference between screen reading vs. paper reading and what you recollect matters and is apparent, a new Dartmouth study suggests.
The study followed people who used computer screens for learning versus paper reading to learn, and found that while screen learning helped solidify the details of the learning, paper reading helped readers better understand abstract concepts.
Better put, concrete memory from reading involves the who and when, whereas abstract concepts tend to lean towards where and why.
"We weren't sure what to expect," explained Geoff Kaufmann, a coauthor of the study. "Some of our previous work showed that people had a hard time seeing 'big picture' information when they did activities on an electronic device compared to paper."
In the study, 300 adults were monitored over four different experiments, using both computer screens and paper with print. The groups analyzed various sets of information ranging from simple things like cars to more complex things like short stories. Researchers then examined how well the readers digested the concepts and remembered concrete and abstract data.
The results showed that abstract thinking was impacted by computer screens but concrete memory was not.
The study, while limited by its participant set, underscores the evolution of learning, and shows how some people learn differently when studying data on a screen or a piece of paper.
The basic gist that we can take from it is that when learning something, it may be in your best interests to digest the information from multiple media forms. For example, if you want to recall the dates of certain events, a computer screen may help you better remember them when studying. However, if you want to recall why such an event occurred or where, paper may be your best bet.
With more schools integrating computers, the interesting thing is that textbooks are not going anywhere, anytime soon. This actually may be a blessing in disguise for educators, because it means that their students should be prone to recalling information better when it's being studied between media like a computer screen and in print like a textbook.
The next time you go to study something, consider this twofold approach. Perhaps read up on the topics online and then print out the cliff notes. Next, study those as well. See if this helps you store all of the abstract and concrete information better.