eLearning vs. Print: Is there a difference in learning?

A week or so ago in his column in the NY Times David Brooks mentioned recent research on the differences between how we read on screen versus how we read on paper (here). This got me thinking about what this means for learning. With so many of our courses having transitioned from print to eLearning over the past decade, are there consequences we may not be aware of?

First, to state the obvious, there are many advantages eLearning has over print: its anytime/anywhere availability, the ease of update, the ability to incorporate audios, videos and animations, its interactivity, the trees saved, etc. But, we take it for granted that reading on-line is no different from reading in print — with no effect on comprehension. But is this true? Does reading (yes, you still have to read a lot of text in most on-line courses) on-line vs. reading in print really have no effect on comprehension and learning?

In his column Brooks references this study:

Norway Study

The authors found that learners who read on paper had significantly higher reading comprehension than those who read on screen.

Why? One reason might be addressed in this study:

San Jose Study

The author finds that students read differently on-line than in print. They tend to browse and scan, looking for keywords, rather than doing the “deep” reading we tend to do in print.

So, I’m not suggesting we throw away our on-line courses and return to print, but we do have to be aware that we may have lost something in the translation. And that something is important for those of us who care about learning: comprehension.

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