Online Reading Strategies for Learning Progression


Have you noticed how everything around us seems to be speeding up? Education included. Universities and colleges work hard to get students through their courses faster than ever before. 
Reasons are many:
 - keeping up with our super-fast world 
- getting students ready for their careers at lightning speed
- saving money 
The questions keep popping up: are we trading of quality for speed? Can we have both? How do our students learn faster? What do they do to learn deeper?

In this article about paper vs digital learning materials, you can read more about how our brains process information coming from screens and printed materials. Can you predict if there are differences in learning from these two media types when it comes to information processing? 

Speed vs Depth in Reading and Learning

In this paragraph, we're focusing on the discussion on how fast students progress through their courses and how deep they process what they learn in those courses. It appears that the medium through which they engage with their reading materials is a relevant factor. This was also the focus of a study (1), which investigated the reading comprehension and the efficiency with which the students navigated through the texts in different formats:

  •  traditional print and 
  • digital PDFs on computers. 

Can you guess - which media is better for faster reading and what encourages better comprehension?

Turns out that interacting with printed materials enables students to grasp and retain the core ideas and intricate details of the articles, suggesting that print may facilitate a deeper engagement with the text.

On the other hand, digital reading proved to be swifter, with students navigating through electronic texts more rapidly than their printed counterparts.

What do you think? Should students choose paper books that might help them understand better but take longer? Or digital screens that let them read faster but maybe not as deeply? Is there a way to get the best of both worlds?

This choice really highlights a big question in education today: How do we learn things quickly without missing out on the deep understanding we need? Maybe reading strategies can help us get the answer.

Online Reading Strategies

First things first - what are reading strategies?

Simply said, they are the methods or plans we use to help us understand, remember, and use what we read. 

Remember the last post, book, or article you read? If you found yourself asking questions like "What's the main point here?" or "How do I already know this?" or highlighting important parts or going back to reread certain parts to clear up confusion, then you were applying reading strategies. These steps are all about making what you read stick in your mind and making sense of it.

What do you think - Do we apply the same strategies when reading on paper and in digital media?

Studies (2) have shown that when reading printed texts versus digital ones, the main differences comes down to how readers manage and regulate their learning. For example, while reading on screens, undergraduate students tend to browse quickly, focusing on keywords and less on in-depth reading. This suggests they put less effort into deeply understanding the material due to difficulty maintaining focus, which could be why reading on screens goes faster.

Speaking of reading time, another study (3) also noticed how students spent their reading time differently when reading from digital and printed resources. Those who read on paper were more likely to go back and reread parts to make sure they really understood, unlike those reading on a screen who mostly read things just once. This shows that students reading on paper might be using deeper ways to study, especially when the text gets tricky.

When looking at diagrams that explained the science concepts, students reading printed material took their time to understand these visuals better. This careful look at diagrams could be another reason they ended up understanding the whole topic better.

So, now we know that reading on screens usually goes faster and that many students don't apply strategies that would help them better understand what they read. 

Let's see if there's a way to support students learning from digital formats develop and use these strategies.

Enhancing Deep Learning in Digital Environments

To facilitate deeper understanding and retention, students need online content that actively supports and promotes effective reading and learning strategies. By embedding specific tasks and tips directly into the digital content, educators can guide students toward more productive study habits, ensuring they engage with the material on a level that goes beyond mere surface comprehension. Here are some tasks and tips that can be integrated to achieve this goal:

1. Self-Questioning Prompts: Including questions at strategic points within the content can encourage students to pause and reflect on what they've just read. These could be comprehension questions or prompts that ask students to make connections to prior knowledge.

2. Interactive Summaries: Offering tools or templates for students to summarise key points of a section in their own words helps them actively engage with the content they're reading. This could be a digital notebook feature or an interactive end-of-section recap.

3. Concept Mapping Tools: Providing interactive elements that allow students to create visual representations of the information, such as concept maps or flowcharts, helps in organising thoughts and seeing the connections between ideas.

4. Highlighting and Annotation Features: Ensuring easy highlighting and note-taking within the digital content can help students mark important information and return to it for review.

5. Guided Reflection Sections: Creating spaces within the content where students can record their thoughts, questions, and reflections about what they're learning encourages active engagement and self-assessment.


This article emphasises the growing trend in academic institutions to accelerate course completion times, pushing students towards more rapid learning processes. Within this framework, we explore the ongoing debate between the use of printed and digital media for academic reading from the perspective of reading speed, the depth of information processing, and the adoption of effective reading strategies in the context of modern education. 

What we learned:

  • Printed texts tend to foster better retention and understanding.
  • Digital media facilitates quicker access to information and can enhance reading speed, appealing to the need for efficiency in accelerated learning environments.
  • Adopting and adapting reading strategies that work well in both printed and digital formats can be key to enhancing learning efficiency. 

Read more about the topic in:

(1) Singer Trakhman, L. M., Alexander, P. A., & Berkowitz, L. E. (2019). Effects of Processing Time on Comprehension and Calibration in Print and Digital Mediums. The Journal of Experimental Education87(1), 101–115. 

(2) Liu, Z. (2005), "Reading behavior in the digital environment: Changes in reading behavior over the past ten years", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 61 No. 6, pp. 700-712.

(3) Jian, YC. (2022). Reading in print versus digital media uses different cognitive strategies: evidence from eye movements during science-text reading. Read Writ 35, 1549–1568.