I just found a new meta-analysis soon to be published in which Pablo Delgado, Cristina Vargas, Rakefet Ackerman & Ladislao Salmerón examine the effects of reading media on reading comprehension. Well, the title gives away the conclusion, I guess.
But this is the longer version:
The results of the two meta-analyses in the present study yield a clear picture of screen inferiority, with lower reading comprehension outcomes for digital texts compared to printed texts, which corroborates and extends previous research (Kong et al., 2018; Singer & Alexander, 2017b; Wang et al. 2007). These results were consistent across methodologies and theoretical frameworks.
And while the effects are relatively low, the researchers do warn:
Although the effect sizes found for media (-.21) are small according to Cohen’s guidelines (1988), it is important to interpret this effect size in the context of reading comprehension studies. During elementary school, it is estimated that yearly growth in reading comprehension is .32 (ranging from .55 in grade 1, to .08 in grade 6) (Luyten, Merrel & Tymms, 2017). Intervention studies on reading comprehension yield a mean effect of .45 (Scammacca et al., 2015). Thus, the effects of media are relevant in the educational context because they represent approximately 2/3 of the yearly growth in comprehension in elementary school, and 1/2 of the effect of remedial interventions.
The analysis also has some clear practical consequences:
A relevant moderator found for the screen inferiority effect was time frame. This finding sheds new light on the mixed results in the existing literature. Consistent with the findings by Ackerman and Lauterman (2012) with lengthy texts, mentioned above, Sidi et al. (2017) found that even when performing tasks involving reading only brief texts and no scrolling (solving challenging logic problems presented in an average of 77 words), digital-based environments harm performance under time pressure conditions, but not under a loose time frame. In addition, they found a similar screen inferiority when solving problems under time pressure and under free time allocation, but framing the task as preliminary rather than central. Thus, the harmful effect of limited time on digital-based work is not limited to reading lengthy texts. Moreover, consistently across studies, Ackerman and colleagues found that people suffer from greater overconfidence in digital-based reading than in paper-based reading under these conditions that warrant shallow processing.
Our findings call to extend existing theories about self-regulated learning (see Boekaerts, 2017, for a review). Effects of time frames on self-regulated learning have been discussed from various theoretical approaches. First, a metacognitive explanation suggests that time pressure encourages compromise in reaching learning objectives (Thiede & Dunlosky, 1999). Second, time pressure has been associated with cognitive load. Some studies found that time pressure increased cognitive load and harmed performance (Barrouillet, Bernardin, Portrat, Vergauwe, & Camos, 2007). However, others suggested that it can generate a germane (“good”) cognitive load by increasing task engagement (Gerjets & Scheiter, 2003). In these theoretical discussions, the potential effect of the medium in which the study is conducted has been overlooked. We see the robust finding in the present meta-analyses about the interaction between the time frame and the medium as a call to theorists to integrate the processing style adapted by learners in specific study environments into their theories
What I really appreciate is that the researchers also checked for publication bias, and good news, the different indicators that were used, suggested no risk of publication bias.
There is only a small bit of irony… I read the study online and you read this online too.
Abstract of the meta-analysis:
With the increasing dominance of digital reading over paper reading, gaining understanding of the effects of the medium on reading comprehension has become critical. However, results from research comparing learning outcomes across printed and digital media are mixed, making conclusions difficult to reach. In the current metaanalysis, we examined research in recent years (2000-2017), comparing the reading of comparable texts on paper and on digital devices. We included studies with betweenparticipant (n = 38) and within-participant designs (n = 16) involving 171,055 participants. Both designs yielded the same advantage of paper over digital reading (Hedge’s g = -.21; dc = -.21). Analyses revealed three significant moderators: (1) time frame: the paper-based reading advantage increased in time-constrained reading compared to self-paced reading; (2) text genre: the paper-based reading advantage was consistent across studies using informational texts, or a mix of informational and narrative texts, but not on those using only narrative texts; (3) publication year: the advantage of paper-based reading increased over the years. Theoretical and educational implications are discussed.