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Digital reading applications bring color to reading

A hot topic in educational sciences is whether and how reading medium (paper vs. screen) affects reading comprehension. Especially in the media – but also in schools – their appears to be a preference for texts presented on paper: Paper texts are thought to induce a more intensive reading strategy, resulting in a better understanding of the content of a text. This conclusion is mainly based on a number of meta-analyses suggesting that paper texts are indeed superior to digital texts – at least in some cases.

Arnout Koornneef, Astrid Kraal
11 October 2022
Download 'Does BeeLine Reader’s gradient-coloured font improve the readability of digital texts for beginning readers?'

However, a general conclusion that 'paper is better than digital' is overly simplistic and ignores many potential advantages of digital texts. For example, digital texts make it easier to present additional information to readers – e.g. with hyperlinks – and adjust the layout of a text to fit the needs of a reader. As such, digital texts can be useful for beginner readers. If you can optimize the layout for these readers ‘on the fly’, this could reduce extraneous load, optimize word recognition, and streamline the eye-movements during reading. As a result, they can focus their attention on the content of texts, enabling them to construct accurate and elaborate mental representations. This core idea is reflected in the design principles of several digital reading applications that have been developed in the last decade, such as Spritz, Immersive Reader and BeeLine Reader. Unfortunately, the efficacy of these (often paid) applications has not been studied in a systematic way.

In the research presented here, we addressed this void. We studied the efficacy of BeeLine Reader, an application that uses color to increase the readability of a text. The results showed that BeeLine Reader might be useful, but only for some beginning readers in some situations. These findings emphasize that claims made for digital reading applications should be formally tested if they are going to be introduced into educational settings.

However, the results also show that we should not ignore (commercial) digital reading applications, because they offer new insights into the reading process and may be very useful for some children.

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