“Abstract thinking isn’t just about big picture ideas: We need it to understand why we are doing things.” — Mary Flanagan, professor at Dartmouth College

Is it easier to learn while using a computer screen or paper? In a digital age, reading and absorbing information from a screen is almost unavoidable but is it the most beneficial way to retain information? A new study by Mary Flanagan researches the effect on memory recollection when using devices for reading purposes.

Flanagan is the co-author of the new study on the impact of online reading. She is a professor of film and media studies and the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor in Digital Humanities at Dartmouth College.

The study followed 300 adults who used computer screens for learning purposes versus paper reading, and found that while screen learning helped with the details of the learning, paper reading helped them better understand abstract concepts.

Concrete Memory Reading: who and when

Abstract Concepts: where and why

“We weren’t sure what to expect,” said Geoff Kaufmann, a coauthor of the study.

“Some of our previous work showed that people had a hard time seeing ‘big picture’ information when they did activities on an electronic device compared to paper,” he added.

The participants were monitored over four different experiments, using both computer screens and paper with print.

The study results indicated that abstract thinking was impacted by computer screens but concrete memory was not.

The research indicates that perhaps a twofold approach to learning may be best. Such as reading about a topic online and then printing out notes to study later.

For an even better learn, we suggest writing out your notes to even further commit the information to memory.

What helps your memory? Screen or print?

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