Digital Tech and Learning

ByDr. Marshall

Digital Tech and Learning

Here is one worth reading. Martin Kutscher, an Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatrics and Neurology at the NYU College of Medicine, took time to write a short but valuable article that answers a question (or questions) that many parents and teachers are asking:  Does reading on a screen interfere with in-depth learning?

And the answer is YES!!!!!  Most of us knew (or assumed) this. If you or your child has ever had to use a digital text, you know how frustrating it can be. You can’t thumb through it; it takes time to find things. You can’t just flip through it to look for things and you can’t “hold” a page with whatever heavy object (a stapler, a coffee cup) is nearby. But those are just the mechanics. The real problems begin when kids try to learn from digital text. Dr. Kutscher lists four:

  1. Digital reading lacks touch. Reading from a screen removes the essential element of touch. Reading specialists have known for years that reading is multisensory. There is something about touching the page, running your fingers across the paper that increases our attention, our immersion in it, and our connection to it.
  1. Digital reading is disorienting. The screen makes it harder to navigate and orient yourself. This is especially true with hypertext that allows and encourages us to jump from page to page with those active links. Research shows that we comprehend more when we read linear text than when we read text peppered with (and distracted by) those links. Also, it is harder to visualize where information is. When we’re reading a book, we can say “I remember seeing that at the top of the right page about four or five pages ago. This is especially problematic with long digital articles that are a continuous scroll and not broken into pages. And the smaller the screen the worse it is. So, beware of trying to do serious work on a cell phone.
  1. Digital reading is shallow reading. There is a growing body of research suggesting that when students rely on digital reading, they are simply scanning for specific pieces of information. That’s okay if that’s all you want to do. But studies also show that students prefer printed materials when they want a deeper understanding.
  1. Digital reading is distracting. I am going to quote Dr. Kutscher directly here: “90% of students felt that they were more likely to be multi-tasking while reading digitally, while only 1% felt that a hardcopy would make them more likely to multi-task. 9% felt the medium (electronic or paper) didn’t matter when it came to multi-tasking.” That means that 89% of students prefer hard copy over a digital version. In another study, 92% of US students said they preferred printed copy not just for longer school work, but also for longer pleasure reading.

So, what are parents and students to do as schools (and the costs of printed books) push students to digital texts?  There are two things we can do immediately:

  1. Introduce children to the love of books early and encourage it often. There is something very different in holding, touching, and even smelling a book that cannot be replaced by a digital screen.
  1. Know that digital learning is shallow learning. It is perfectly okay for some things. We all love Google and the ease with which we can look things up. But deeper learning requires a different set of skills and, quite possibly, a different set of tools.

Treasure books. Despite all the advantages of digital resources, there is something special about holding a book or sheets of paper in your hands. There is some deeper connection that just can’t be replaced. We should cherish that difference, just as we cherish that convenience of our digital devices. Both are important and both have value.

About the author

Dr. Marshall administrator

Richard Marshall earned an Ed.D. in reading and learning disabilities at West Virginia University in 1982. While completing his doctoral studies he served as an educational specialist in the Pediatric Neurology. Upon completion of his degree he became an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the WVU Medical School. After moving to Florida in 1983, he joined the faculty in the Department of Pediatrics in the College of Medicine at the University of South Florida and worked for five years in the Neonatal Developmental Follow-Up Program. In 1993, he completed a Ph.D. in School Psychology at the University of Georgia with an emphasis in Child and Adolescent Neuropsychology. Upon degree completion, he taught courses in the biological bases of behavior and neuropsychology at the University of Texas in Austin. He also served as developmental psychologist at the Children’s Hospital of Austin. He and his family returned to Florida in 2001 and he once more became a faculty member at the University of South Florida. He is presently an Associate Professor in the College of Education and he is an adjunct associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at the USF College of Medicine. In 2008, Dr. Marshall co-authored the Pediatric Behavior Rating Scale; in 2011, he co-authored The Middle School Mind: Growing Pains in Early Adolescent Brains (2011) and is currently revising the Handbook for Raising an Emotionally Healthy Child (2012). In addition to writing and a busy schedule of workshops and presentations, Dr. Marshall also maintains a private practice in Lakeland, Florida where he specializes in the assessment and treatment of children and adults with emotional, behavioral, and learning disorders; parenting; family therapy; and couples counseling. As part of that practice he maintains a daily blog and he co-hosts The Mental Breakdown Podcast (iTunes, Google Play Music, and YouTube) and the Psychreg Podcast. He has spoken to professional and community groups throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, and South America.