Does learning occur differently with physical or digital print?
I’m skeptical about this claim: That your brain interprets text in books differently than text in digital form. One argument in support of the claim is an observation (not much data) that we have to re-read digital information more often than print information before we remember it, but doesn’t offer a theory for why that should be true. I find this second claim a bit more plausible: That our memories rely on contextual information, and physical books provide us more cues to support recalling what we read. I wonder, though, if we might not be able to provide more contextual cues through the interface. I’ve started reading the “Our Choice” app on my iPad, and there are lots of cues in that book to provide a sense of “place” (what page you’re on, what pages are around you, what chapter you’re in).
But without stronger evidence that there is a difference, I’m going to keep reading on my iPad and Kindle (well, once I get a new Kindle — my Kindle’s screen died somewhere during my trip to Venice this last weekend).
In other words, the human brain uses location to recall the words it reads, which helps reinforce the information. To trigger a memory, the brain might recall whether it read the information at the top, middle, or bottom of the page, remember a corresponding picture on the page, or even a page number — essentially creating a mental bookmark to cue recall of the information.
“Anyone who has read an e-book can attest that the page provides fewer spatial landmarks than print,” Changizi continues. “In a sense, the page is scrolled without incident, infinite and limitless, which can be dizzying. On the other hand, printed books give physical reference points, which can be particularly helpful in recalling how far along in the book we are, something that’s more challenging to assess on an e-book.”