Does reading on digital devices lead to deep reading?

Does the technology we use to read actually change the way we read and comprehend written material? Is reading on a screen a different mental process than reading on paper? Reading is such a critical component for legal education and many legal scholars have found that effective reading comprehension skills are a key differentiator between successful and struggling law students.

Researchers are trying to understand differences in comprehension between reading on digital devices versus on paper to develop the best strategies to transfer tried and true print reading strategies into digital reading environments.  To be most effective, researchers suggest readers will need a “bi-lateral brain,” a brain that is adept with technology, but also employs deep reading skills no matter the technology.

An article in Education Week, Digital Reading Poses Learning Challenges for Students, summarizes the issue:

When reading on screens, for example, people seem to reflexively skim the surface of texts in search of specific information, rather than dive in deeply in order to draw inferences, construct complex arguments, or make connections to their own experiences. Research has also found that students, when reading digitally, tend to discard familiar print-based strategies for boosting comprehension.

A similar article in Scientific American from last year, The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens, summarized recent research on this issue, suggesting that while “E-readers and tablets are becoming more popular as such technologies improve, but research suggests that reading on paper still boasts unique advantages.”

When reading on screens, people seem less inclined to engage in what psychologists call metacognitive learning regulation—strategies such as setting specific goals, rereading difficult sections and checking how much one has understood along the way.