Is reading from paper better than from a screen?
In 2014, the same researchers ran a similar test once again and found that times were a-changing. While their previous research showed that “screen learners performed worse and were more overconfident about their success”, the new research showed once again that students’ preferences for screen were determining their results. While “Text learning was [still] found to be less effective on screen than on paper”, students reading from screen were performing better in the later tests and almost on par with those on paper.1
It appears that the most important part for learning comprehension is up to the preference – whatever the students are used to, is going to determine their ability. And while I have been overly critical of digital use and I am advising my students on printing their material/buying books, the results are dependent on the preference. Seeing the progression over time, it seems it is time for me to stop advising my students on the medium and leave it to their preference. But that only goes for learning ability, aren’t there also physical consequences?
Is reading from a screen still bad for your eyes?
With every advancement of new technologies, there are always side-products sold to keep you safe – the extra layer in front of your monitor to block radiation was very common in the 1980s or a sticker to be placed on your mobile phone to prevent radiation in late 1990s? So, too, with the rising use of screen, there have been worries on the continuous exposure. In the Netherlands there is a phenomenon called ‘mouse arm’ – for an over use of a computer mouse; and in United Kingdom there is a phenomenon called ‘iPad neck’ – which is pretty self-explanatory. One article speaks of ‘computer vision syndrome’ – the symptoms include “blurred vision, eyestrain, headaches, ocular discomfort, dry eye and diplopia”2 – and advises frequent breaks including ‘forced’ blinking to wetten your eyes. Most notably though, it also advises newer technology over the older – new screens have higher resolutions and higher refresh rates, which is better for your eyes. So it would seem that whatever effect screens have on your eyes, frequent breaks should alleviate those.
The most common problem with the screen, however, and by now many people know of it, is not that it is bad for your eyes. Instead, the high use of mobile phones/tablets, etc. affects the production of melatonin, which in turn regulates our sleeping cycle – the ‘blue’ light that emanates from our screens basically makes us think that it is day, while it is night.3 But next to this relatively inane side-effect, there could be much worse effects – suppressing melatonin could lead to cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity.4 A very easy solution to this is the use of various apps and software, which change the light of your laptop depending on the time of day. I’d suggest you experiment a little, but to be honest I am not using any (though I have in the past).
What about you? Do you prefer screen or paper? And do you use any software to adapt your screen?
- The article is available here, if you have a subscription.
- The article is available online (pdf), and is only a page long, so have a look if you are interested. It also has some brief suggestions.
- See this article for a somewhat complex explanation. http://www.jneurosci.org/content/21/16/6405.long
- Note that I am saying could, there is evidence, but I am not an expert in the field to fully comprehend the arguments made. If you are interested, here are two articles: Article 1 and Article 2.