A recent study reveals that electronic readers have more benefits for education than previously thought, including short term and long term memory retention.
Thomas Gable, a recent graduate of The College of Wooster, along with his adviser at the northern Ohio school, Claudia Thompson, conducted the study to see if electronic readers worked as well as good old text-on-paper for reading and retaining information from an article. What they found was that the Apple iPad and the Amazon Kindle didn't reduce the time needed to read an 8- to 10-page story but significantly improved short-term memory retention and had the same long-term memory effects as reading from paper.
While that doesn't necessarily sound good for education, which prizes long term retention, it's actually an important finding. Previous tests of electronic reading had shown that the reader's speed and retention suffered compared with reading from paper. Gable's study indicates that electronic texts may not be such a detriment after all.
Gable found that readers are still faster using paper than using electronic screens, even though the Kindle's e-ink screen is designed to resemble the opacity and low glare of paper. However, Gable told TechNewsDaily that individual reading speeds may increase with the reader's familiarity with the device .
"Participants who had previously used an iPad, even one time, were significantly faster than those who hadn't," Gable said. "I would expect it to continue to decrease reading times and increase reading speed according to how much experience you have" with the device.
The findings are a positive sign that electronic devices are becoming ever more useful for education purposes. As people become accustomed to them, they seem to have the same benefits as paper texts and even a few advantages, such as the boost for short-term retention.
However, Gable said electronic reading devices still aren't good enough to replace textbooks.
"I wouldn't recommend these devices for collegiate use. They're getting closer, but they're not there yet," Gable said.The biggest pitfall, he said, is annotation capability. Both the iPad and Kindle allow the reader to make notes, but the process is much more complicated and cumbersome than using a highlighter or scribbling notes in the margins of a book.
"Annotation capability is the key for education, especially college education," Gable said. "Annotation features need to be improved in these devices before they can really replace paper."
Gable says student annotation needs should be tested further. He also wants to conduct studies using longer text passages.
While this study used an article that was 8-10 pages long (length varied because of differences in formatting and font size between the iPad and Kindle), Gable thinks that readers will have more problems with much longer passages (25 pages or more) on an electronic device, especially eye fatigue from glowing screens.