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Differences between reading on paper and computer screen: Reading or scanning texts?

Differences between reading on paper and computer screen: Reading or scanning texts?There are significant differences between how people read a text on a computer-screen in comparison to a printed page. Studies show that when somebody reads a printed page she often reads word by word and row after row. In concern of web pages a study  shows that 79% of the participants of a test instead scan the text. The participants of the test stopped at separate words and phrases, and jumped further downwards the web-text. A latter study shows that the share that scans is even larger for how people read e-mail-newsletters. Which consequences do these results lead to for eLearning and for eBooks that now are being introduced by a majority of the publishing companies?

Background: The mentioned studies above are performed by Nielsen Norman Group and their conclusion is that longer texts for the computer screen should be structured in a scan-friendly format. This means for instance marked keyword, relevant subtitles and one idea per section. In addition the number of the words in the text is very important and they recommend not more than half or rather even a smaller amount of words in comparison to a similar printed text. Instead the text should be complemented by hyperlinks and illustrations.

The test-results above can seem logical, thus not only that computers, netbooks, smartphones and in some cases e-Readers, can provide conditions for using interactivity and multimedia etc, but to create an effective reading and learning environment those functions should be used. Unfortunately, too many producers have got stuck in the same problem which the early filmmakers did in the beginning of 2000th century.

The first film producers created films as similar to a theater performance as they could. A fixed camera was placed by the scene and the actors were acting in front of it. After some time the producers found out that they could move the camera so the scenes could be filmed from different angles. Later they also realized that the film story did not have to follow a strict timeline but it could be cut into episodes that drove the story forward. Today, traditional educational materials and other books are being digitized in the same spirit where printed pages are being copied to a digital form. Practically that means for a majority of the readers a word-by-word-reading method in a scanning format.

Visual perception: Reading a printed page the effectiveness of learning depends on the student’s perception as well as interpretation skills of the text. Concerning a well structured website, for instance an eLearning module, the effectiveness of learning origins from visual perception, which means how the student interacts with the material. The studies consist of scanning texts, navigating forward to deeper knowledge and solving tasks that often generate immediate feedback etc. This is generally a much more active form of learning and more senses are involved.

Pedagogical design in practice: In addition to this Olimpius Istrate, the author of the study “Visual and Pedagogical design of eLearning content”, gives the following advice for the development of eLearning modules. Since the content is interactive and multimedia-based, in other words it requires concentration and to some extent it is unpredictable, the structure should be characterized by predictability and regularity. It should consist of standardized design so the students can intuitively navigate and easily find relevant information. Olimpius Istrate, researcher at the Centre for Innovation in Education (TEHNE Romania), recommends finally that no more than 25-40% of each computer screen should consist of text. Accordingly there are important differences between a well-structured book page and a page for the computer screen which should support learning.

Articles author:

LarsGöran Boström


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