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Do We Comprehend, Remember, and Perceive Texts Differently When Reading Them on a Screen Instead of Paper? The Research Provides the Answers

looja EPALE Keskus Eestis
Keel: EN
Document available also in: ET

This blog post was originally published in Estonian by Katre Savi

On 9 April 2020, Merle Koik wrote the opinion piece An E-Book vs a Printed Book – Which One to Prefer? for the EPALE blog. The post invited readers’ comments on whether they prefer to read an e-book or a printed book and why that is their preference. Among the respondents, there were both e-book and printed book favourers. Additionally, a new question arose: would a similar preference apply fo trainings and study materials?

I want to elaborate on the topic based on the research done by E-READ (Evolution of reading in the age of digitization), a European-wide research network. The final report of that research was presented as a joint statement of scientists or the Stavanger Declaration in 2019.

E-READ is a research network that acted within the framework of the program European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST) and united more than 120 scientists and researchers from 33 countries and from different scientific fields, including neuroscience, arts, and humanities, social sciences, etc. The main aim of the work of the E-READ research network was to reduce the speculations accompanying the impact of digital reading and to replace them with empirical evidence as well as to develop an evaluation model for reading texts on paper and on screens.


So, Which One to Prefer? The Research Provides the Answers

The research of the E-READ addressed reading practices, paying specific attention to the differences between reading on paper versus on screens. A meta-study carried out over a span of four years, in 2016-2019, which was based on the results of 54 studies with a total of more than 170,000 participants, specifically focused on the topic of how readers comprehend and remember the written text when reading it on the screen compared to reading it on paper.

As the main conclusion of the research, the scientists pointed out that while digital technologies facilitate information transfer and presentation, reading printed text has a clear advantage when the aim is to gain knowledge and understand difficult material better. This advantage of reading information from paper increased further when the reader was under time pressure.

Printed texts and screens each have their advantages, which manifest themselves in different ways for different age groups and when used for different purposes. Digital technologies offer a myriad of possibilities for creating, accessing, storing, and sharing information; at the same time, it was proven that processing the content of the text is still more efficient when reading it on paper. Reading printed texts also has the benefit of cognitive acquisition of the content – more in-depth comprehension of the text is improved, vocabulary usage and memory are enhanced. It was highlighted in the research that students feel more confident when learning from textbooks and other printed study materials, because this way, they can focus more on the content of the material, instead of being distracted by the features of the digital application or device.


E-Learning Affects the Environment

Another aspect to pay attention to is the impact that e-learning has on the environment. Every correspondence and posting, uploaded study material or web course, solving tasks in an online environment, and other activities in the digital world increase the amount of digital waste, which is an ever-growing problem for the environment. On the contrary, when used responsibly, printed materials are a good example of environmental sustainability and a well-functioning circular economy; paper is an easily recyclable and reusable raw material.

The results of the E-READ research have captured the interest of a wide audience of decision-makers of the field of education, teachers, publishers, and software manufacturers since IT continues to be one of the most rapidly developing sectors; and new digital learning resources and environments are constantly being launched. In the current difficult time, when any kind of educational activity has been labeled as ’e-learning’ and, what’s more, all communication is mainly taking place using electronic channels, it is relevant to think about what we are using, for what purposes, and how.


5 Tips for Developing Digital Learning Environments and Courses:

  • Think beforehand which technology is the most appropriate for presenting the content being taught, which digital tools to use and on which conditions, so that they would support the achievement of the best learning outcomes
  • Take user needs, not the technological possibilities, as the starting point; i. e., choose the format and the platform accordingly, e. g., an audio lecture on a podcasting platform, a real-time video lecture, a seminar involving group work, an open discussion, etc.
  • Think about how to involve and instruct the learners, including in situations where the learners might have no experience or very limited experience when using the chosen platform or technology (downloading the application, creating an account and logging in, the differences of the application on an Apple vs a Microsoft device)
  • Consider using the printed options to an equal extent with the screen options. Printed study materials have certain proven advantages, e. g., collecting different sources and combining them into a whole, underlining, writing in the margins, and other techniques facilitating the acquisition of a text
  • Simultaneously with the learning content, the learners have to be taught strategies for acquiring and consciously using analytical and reflective reading habits when learning from screens

Comprehensive information on the research Evolution of reading in the age of digitisation (E-READ) can be found on the program’s website at

Photo: Intergraf


Katre Savi is the CEO of the Association of Estonian Printing and Packaging Industry and EPALE ambassador in 2020. Previously, she has worked as the manager of service design for the public sector at the Estonian Design Centre and as the head of the Development Centre of Information Systems at HITSA (the Information Technology Foundation for Education). She graduated from Tartu University, having specialized in sociology, and has expanded her knowledge through many different pieces of training.

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  • Kasutaja Kreet Poolma pilt
    Isiklikult nõustun, et teadmiste omandamiseks ning keeruka materjali paremaks mõistmiseks on parem paberil trükitud tekst. Nagu artiklis mainitud, võimaldab see lisada juurde märkmeid ning jooniseid. Samuti saab seda materjali lihtsasti kaasas kanda ning näiteks bussis/rongis, raamatukogus või kohvikus üle lugeda. Muidugi saab kõike ka teha e-lugeris või sülearvutis aga nendega võib ju juhtuda, et näiteks aku saab tühjaks. Tehhnoloogia kasutamisel on miinuseks veel see, et tähelepanu hajub kiiresti - saab ju alati lisaks õppematerjalile avada uudiste- või sotsiaalmeediaportaali, või kontrollida oma emaile, mis kõik omakorda segab õppimist. Pabertrükil õppematerjalile on lihtsam keskenduda ning muid ahvatlusi on kergem vältida. Oma ülikooliõpingute ajal printisin pidevalt õppematerjalid kas paberile või tegin loengute ajal kirjalikult märkmeid vihikusse. Läbi kirjutamine on ka üks hea meetod õpitu kinnistamiseks. 
    Keskkonnajäätmete kohta kommenteeriks nii palju, et kuigi e-õpe tekitab tõesti samuti jäätmeid, siis kaldun arvama et paberjäätmete probleem on maailmas hetkel siiski palju suurem. Toon elulise näite - kui veetsin vahetusõpilasena ühe semestri Türgis, siis avastasin ebameeldiva üllatusena trükiste liigkasutamise. Nimelt tuli iga semestri alguses minna trükikotta, et iga õpilane saaks individuaalselt omale õppematerjale välja trükkida. Mõninga õppeaine puhul tähendas see vähemalt 200-lehelist väljaannet - see kogus oli ainult üheks semestriks ning üheks õppeaineks. Võib ainult ette kujutada kui palju paberjäätmeid üks õppeaasta Türgis võib tekitada... Eesti on küll selles vallas väga eeskujulik, kuid kahjuks ei ole kõik maailma piirkonnad veel nii tehnoloogiliselt arenenud, et vähendada paberimajandust ning minna üle e-õppele. 
  • Kasutaja Tatjana Jaskeviča pilt
    Thank you for posting this blog post. It is important to know how technologies affect our everyday lives, especially, our learning since the majority of information that students get right now is in the digital format. 

    The results of the research are unexpected to me to some extent. The most astonishing part was the effect of the E-learning on the environment. I have been thinking for a long time that we save the environment by using digital materials. I think that this piece of information should be disseminated. Furthermore, people need to learn how to use digital technologies effectively, in order not to use it in vain. From my experience, it is always more difficult for me to acquire new information by using digital technologies. I prefer to read a book when I have such opportunity. However, many of my friends and acquaintances like to read from the screen, and would choose digital technologies over printed materials. Nonetheless, I like to work with digital texts when I need to analyse something. I save a lot of time by typing or voice typing. Besides, I can rearrange information if I need to.

    This research and five tips for developing digital courses are informative and valuable pieces of information. Thank you for sharing it.
  • Kasutaja Anna Holberga pilt
    I also think that this topic is very important. Thank you for the tips! One of the best things about using technology to teach is that it captures the interest of learners. However, being distracted when using technologies to study is a problem. E-learning offers many opportunities, but it is important that we teach students how to use IT responsibly and effectively. One of the problems might be that students do not know how to do that. Just like people are taught to use text analysis skills, we should also teach skills that help use digital platforms more effectively. One of those would probably be self-discipline. Being distracted by what is online is something that affects most people. I also think that we should teach students to reuse paper. For example at the school that I graduated we would have “scrap paper boxes” where you could put paper that had one side used, so someone else could use the other side. We also had this in our art classroom, because someone might use those pieces of paper for their work.
  • Kasutaja Katre Savi pilt
    Read more about European research initiative: the Evolution of Reading in the Age of Digitisation (E-READ) at EPALE resource centre.