Embracing Reading in the Digital Age

CEO, One-to-One Institute

The discussion and debate around traditional and online reading is most interesting.  We live in times where the discoveries about brain functions give us tremendous ability to reach students with varied learning styles. Those same students have found their own 'learning' niches online without our help.

How Traditional and Online Reading Differ

There are obvious differences between traditional and online reading.  The former is organized, linear and finite with clear beginnings, middles and endings.  While reading a book, or other text, individuals may think, infer and otherwise engage the content which provides for rich cognitive activity.

Online reading can be all that in addition to being interactive, collaborative and call on students’ other skills in addition to ‘reading’, especially when one is engaged beyond the 20-second surf mode.  In fact, the argument is made that online readers may leap ahead, skill wise, of traditional readers.   Online readers have the opportunity to view topics from a variety of perspectives.  Often they directly connect and collaborate with others.  These readers must become adept at vetting their discoveries in order to present quality research or findings.

Reviewing Research

The overall activity of searching and reading online calls on readers’ advanced skills.  According to the “New Literacies Research Lab at the University of Connecticut” (2008), online readers need to 1) identify questions and find potential sources; 2) evaluate and synthesize the information; and 3) communicate with others.  In comparison, book readers 1) form questions less frequently-searches are limited to the index and table of contents; 2) have high confidence in books; information is often already organized and synthesized; and 3) interact less directly and less often with one another.

While today’s research indicates that the only kind of reading that relates to higher academic achievement is frequent novel reading, we know that the ‘new’ generation of readership is not yet being evaluated as such (Birr Moje, University of Michigan, 2008).  We also know that today’s students are wired significantly differently from those only ten years ago.  Stay tuned to the research that tells us how that revamped wiring informs us about teaching and learning. 

Student Skills and Learning

Of concern to all of us is whether or not the rapid pace of online searching and reading negatively affects students’ ability to concentrate and comprehend.  The point here is that traditional reading is more focused and sustained.  Online reading can involve the same – but to what extent is that happening among today’s learners?  Aren’t there ways, in addition to traditional and online reading, to ensure students’ concentration and comprehension skill development?

A lot of questions exist within the new readership realities.  Today’s learners are helping to lead the way to school transformation that best authenticates their life experiences.  What we know for sure is that online reading is a fact.  Students’ access to that venue is ever increasing and becoming part of the education environment.  As educators, we have to be sure that avenue is well paved and maintained – and, yes, embraced.

I welcome your thoughts and comments!


Leslie Wilson, founder and CEO of One-to-One Institute, has served education for 38+ years  in top level, key decision-making roles at state and local levels. Recognized as an international expert in education technology, Wilson is a frequent writer, presenter and interviewee. Among her many publications, she co-authored, “Project RED-The Technology Factor, Nine Keys to Student Achievement and Cost Effectiveness” which is the most broadly used research around successful implementation of 1:1 technologies in schools.

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