Better learning from screen or paper?

Learning better from a screen of paper? Find out here!

Nowadays, so many teaching methods are offered digitally. In primary schools as well as secondary schools, many books are offered digitally and assignments are also processed digitally in the programme. So much so that you can't do without the digital version anymore. As a tutor-teacher, this makes me a little queasy. That is why I always tell my pupils: print the chapter you have to learn! Work on it actively, highlighting important sentences, summarising, reading it carefully several times. If necessary, make notes on the sidelines, that is called actively dealing with your subject matter, and certainly on paper, because that is the best way! Physical books, printed pages, that's the solution for really lasting and deep absorption.

Contrary to what you might expect in this digital age with all the computer screens, e-readers, tablets and mobile phones, students prefer physical books and not digital books. There are some studies on the internet in which can be found that according to 92 per cent of American students it takes longer to understand the material, you read over it a bit quicker, you do not read " thoroughly". You read more carefully when you have a physical book in front of you. This applies to students in secondary school, college or university, but certainly also to primary school pupils.

I read an article on and on that shows from a report by Scientific American that reading is "topographical". When you read something, you structure the content in your mind ... just as you mentally map out a path when you climb a mountain or take a city walk, your brain plots the line-by-line journey your eyes make through a book.

Another researched fact is that learning and absorbing information from paper is felt more pleasantly because you can feel the paper, you can see where a text begins and ends. Your concentration is better when you read from paper, you can easily flip through the text and therefore you can easily flip back and read parts again more often than from a screen. If you read on a screen, it is even the case that you unconsciously skip whole parts and scan over them more or less. It may be that reading on a screen is faster than on paper, but that is not necessarily better, but rather worse.

So what does all this really mean? It means that we understand and remember information better when we read it from a page rather than from a screen such as a computer, digiboard, e-reader or tablet. If we are asked to recall information, our brain will remember where on a page we read the information, which makes recall easier. Studying notes from a computer screen or tablet does not give our brains the same context as reading the information from a textbook or a set of printed pages. "The endless scroll of a website or the clicked pagination of an e-reader does not provide the same cartographic clues ... you only have access to the handful of paragraphs present on the screen, while the rest of the text is hidden ... which means you miss the contextual information you ambiently receive by holding a book in your hands." (

Coupled with the increased risk of distraction or procrastination when studying online, it just makes sense: students need to write/print out their study notes on paper, grab their textbooks and turn off screens to study effectively. So I would say, do not use those digital teaching methods so easily, but go back to the way it used to be, learning from a real book!

I'd love to hear what you thought of the article!

drs. Maartje Janssen

Books written by Maartje Janssen

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