To understand this post, you need to know something first: I’m twenty. I’ll be twenty-one very soon (a month and a half, not that I’m counting). I can’t legally drink or rent a car, but I already feel obsolete. I have a year and a half left of college, and I already feel behind the times. I recently read an article stating that children have little to no preference learning from e-readers than they do from actual hard copy print books. Comprehension-wise, as long as the story doesn’t have too many distractions through applications and games, children retain and comprehend books on e-readers just as well as print books. (For more info, check out these links: http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2012/for-reading-and-learning-kids-prefer-e-books-to-print-books/ and http://www.marketwatch.com/story/study-finds-e-readers-equal-print-for-childrens-reading-comprehension-2012-01-11)
Fourth-grade children comprehend and remember e-books better than I do. I’m primarily a visual and kinesthetic learner, but with an important focus on the kinesthetic: I remember from writing things down, pointing to things on a visual page, remembering the location of a word in a book–left or right side of the pages; top, middle, or bottom of the page; beginning, middle, end of the book. As mentioned in an earlier post, I have a Kindle, and trust me, I’ll address that issue at a later date. But here’s my issue with reading from screens and e-readers:
I rarely remember books I read on the Kindle as well as I remember books that I read on print. Ask me to summarize a book I held in my hands and physically turned the page, and I have no problem relaying the story back to you. Ask me about a book I read on my Kindle, and I’ll be able to recall some of the major details, but not as clearly or concisely. So this technology has affected my reading. I lose the kinesthetic feel of where information is on a page, how it’s physically organized.
Reading from a computer screen is similar. Because there is no sense of spatial organization, I tend to skim. Scrolling pales in comparison to flipping a page, running your fingers over text, imprinting the memory of the image of the words onto your mind. You can’t interact as well with a screen as with a good old-fashioned print book. You can’t annotate; you can’t underline or highlight; you can’t bookmark or dog-ear pages.
I’m currently taking a cyberliteracy course where we’re trying to examine whether my generation’s preference for print is from habit and upbringing or from how humans must learn. Most of my peers, when assigned a reading online, print out the reading and use the hardcopy to underline and make notes. I do this. I just printed out a 55-page white paper on children learning through technology. I printed front-to-back, but I still took the time to print out 28 pages just so that I could read better. When we read from a computer, we skim. Reading from a computer requires bullets, shorter sentences, a get-to-the-point, hurry-it-up chase to the message. We tend to read the first few sentences of a web page then scroll quickly through the rest, so if you have something important to say, say it at the top of the page.
I think the preference for print is probably from habit and taught modes of learning. Students learn to take notes physically, to annotate books for class, to read from hard-copy textbooks. I had the option of buying an e-textbook for significantly less than the print version, but I sprung for the print version just because I knew I wasn’t going to remember an e-book as well as the print version. It’s the way I learned, and I’m not going to break easily the surface, superficial learning I do from online sources. It’s going to take some time.
But back to my feeling old at a young age. Yes, my generation grew up learning to use computers and came of age during the myspace and Facebook revolutions, but we still learned primarily from a traditional pen-and-paper classroom setting. I have a feeling we’ll have trouble keeping up with students who are learning from computers, who will have more training in comprehending from a screen, who will (maybe) be better able to concentrate and control the distractions inherent in learning from a computer. I’m not sure I’ll fully be able to do this within the next few years. I feel obsolete and behind-the-times, and I’m still waiting for my twenty-first birthday.