Can digital reading replace reading paper?

Reading research
Book or screen?

Reading is the be-all and end-all. Reading skills are the key to educational success. But how much book has to stay and how digital can it get when children learn to read? A question that was in focus on the nationwide reading day on November 15th. Scientists make exciting observations of how the brain reacts when it is supposed to master the complex process of "reading a book" or when it is fed digitally.

Neuroscientist and psychiatrist Manfred Spitzer is convinced that reading a book is more likely to get stuck. "When reading the screen, every nonsense flickers, everyone can write something and send it to the world at the push of a button." He emphasizes: "You learn to read by reading. If only short messages are read on small screens, that is extremely problematic."

"Reading educates, not daddling"

And: "Reading educates, daddling not" - even electronic textbooks tempted daddling, observes the founder of the Transfer Center for Neurosciences and Learning at Ulm University. Digital media have no place in primary schools. With reference to studies by scientists and paediatricians, Spitzer warns: Digital media consumption harms language development in kindergarten age and leads to disorders of attention in elementary school age.

When it comes to reading literacy among children in Germany, there is a considerable gap, as has been found in studies. According to the Reading Foundation, every fifth elementary school child has problems reading. Learning researcher Katharina Scheiter says that children and young people read a lot. That is encouraging. "But reading behavior has changed as a result of digitization, and younger children are already reading digitally." The psychologist from the Leibniz Institute for Knowledge Media (IWM) in Tübingen explains that longer texts that are read on a mobile phone, tablet, PC or laptop screen are difficult to process more deeply and store in memory.

The digital variant should support

With the digital media you gain enriching sources such as explanatory videos, pictures, graphics, animations - a plus. "But the big question is: How do we get all of this connected?" Children, adolescents and adults alike have difficulties understanding the contents of the various sources individually and relating them to one another.

According to Scheiter, the digital version should primarily have a supportive character - provided it has didactic added value. At home and at school, children would have to be instructed in digital use. "Nothing can be done in the classroom without guidance and students shouldn't be overwhelmed by the multimedia offer." She sees an opportunity to close the gap between poorly educated and well-educated families: "Digital media have great potential for individual advancement. One can differentiate much better." The classes are very heterogeneous, also due to different social origins - this is a good place to start digitally.

"Digital reading also means multi-media reading"

Brain researcher and psychologist Peter Gerjets looks at the brain. "Digital reading also means multimedia reading, with hyperlinks, moving and interactive graphics, animations - such digital reading elements can put a lot of stress on the brain," explains the IWM expert. This has also been shown in examinations using EEG - current signals are read on the scalp. An example: When doing an Internet search, the IWM researchers observe a great deal of activity in the frontal area of ​​the brain.

"Reading on the Internet is more strenuous and tends to be more superficial," says Gerjets. "Resources that would be necessary for a deep reading are easily wasted on clicking and multimedia." Reading for a long time does not work as well on the screen or screen as reading a book. He also emphasizes: Reading on paper, reading longer texts in books is very important. "It has to stay that way. What you learn in the process - concentration, following thought processes for longer - expands the brain."

Does our control center change in our head when it switches increasingly to digital from childhood? The basic mechanism of the brain does not change, but the synaptic structure does, explains Gerjets. "What is not activated is broken down. The brain is like a muscle that has to be trained: Use it or lose it."