Print trumps audio and video for learning

Naomi S. Baron is a Professor of Linguistics at the American University in Washington. She has written numerous books about learning and reading, her latest is called How We Read Now. In it she examines the differences between reading from print, on screen and using other media. Print comes out as most effective for several reasons, especially when it comes to complex texts, analytical tasks and recalling detail.

“The reasons relate to a variety of factors, including diminished concentration, an entertainment mindset and a tendency to multitask while consuming digital content.”

Last year the use of digital media in education has increased significantly around the world. This was due to changed learning conditions and the increase in distance education. The majority of educators thought the move to more digital media had a negative impact.

However, it is also due to the fact that students generally feel more engaged by audio and video and are more likely to complete assignments when asked to listen to podcasts or watch a video. So a mix of media is important for motivational reasons, but also for weak readers and where materials are not available in print.

“The collective research shows that digital media have common features and user practices that can constrain learning. These include diminished concentration, an entertainment mindset, a propensity to multitask, lack of a fixed physical reference point, reduced use of annotation and less frequent reviewing of what has been read, heard or viewed.”

Printing of books and learning materials has changed with the evolution of digital print technologies. Today, textbooks and other materials can be produced and distributed quickly and customised at high quality and unprecedented low costs.