Since the launch of the first e-reader by Microsoft in 2000, there have been a lot of opinions on digital screens and the shift away from print. The notion that print is dead is a conversation for another time; however, research in a new book titled "Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World" suggests that mobile reading may have a negative impact on a student's ability to focus.
Author Naomi Baron wrote a guest blog post for The Huffington Post on her findings. According to Baron's research, when it comes to reading in any form, whether for school or pleasure, students have a considerably easier time reading print materials. In fact, Baron reported that her students multi-tasked three times more when reading material in a digital format as opposed to print.
While multi-tasking can be a useful tool for a busy student, it does hinder a major element of the learning environment: critical thinking. Baron stated that when students read on e-readers or other electronic screens, they are not properly absorbing information. Instead, they are skimming articles and only really retaining a highlight reel of material.
This type of reading is common among millennials in particular, and Baron argued that it is hurting the practice of critically analyzing texts. Instead of working and thinking through texts, snap judgments are made about how to prioritize the information on the screen. Baron called for parents and educators alike to understand the hindrances e-readers present to a student's focus and reevaluate the use of digital readers in the education environment.
Sleep problems connect to digital readers
Baron's book is not the only piece of literature to suggest that print reading is generally better than digital screens. A study by Harvard Medical School's sleep medicine department suggested that e-readers can negatively impact sleep.
The research found that students who read a light-emitting e-reader before bed, as opposed to a print book, took approximately 10 more minutes to fall asleep. This delayed sleep process was linked to increased risk for a handful of health issues such as breast, colorectal and advanced prostate cancer, as well as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.
Not only did falling asleep take longer, but e-reader users experienced less rapid eye movement, or REM, sleep than print readers. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes, REM sleep is known specifically to stimulate the brain regions used in learning and as a result aids in the brains ability to retain learned skills.
Wait, there's more
Ironically, millennials are the major constituency that believes in the power of print. In a recent study released by the Pew Research Center, 62 percent of U.S. citizens under 30 stated they believe that printed materials hold valuable information the Web cannot offer. Perhaps as a result of this conviction, the same study found that teens – ages 16 to 17 – were more likely to read books in print as well as utilize them for research than older age groups.
So, next time someone tries to suggest that print is for old people or that technology is somehow superior, have them check out these studies. We'd suggest a printed copy.