Reading Online: Strategies for Success

Channin G., a WilmU student, studies from home.

In a previous blog post, The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard (May 27, 2014), we discussed the differences between different styles of notetaking, coming to the conclusion that handwritten notetaking garners deeper understanding of course material than taking notes on an electronic device. What about reading? When you read online, whether it is on a laptop, phone, or tablet, is your comprehension less than than reading traditional texts printed on paper?

The jury is out. There are a number of research studies investigating how the brain processes information on a lit screen versus a static page. But it’s more than a physical issue of backlight, eye strain, and the contrast of type on a background.

The linear nature of the printed page, one idea flowing into another, is completely disrupted by online and interactive texts. Data is served in nodes, with hyperlinks redirecting the reader before the reader processes the entire text. Sometimes this is a benefit, and sometimes not.

Reading Text

Today’s students may find their ability to focus on a text is the biggest challenge. Hyperlinks, videos, and advertising all pull your eyes away from the primary text. There are a few tools available to help you focus.

  • Browser settings. When reading online, customize your browser settings to eliminate distractions. Bump up the text size, and turn off automatic image loading to minimize distractions.
  • Readability. Readability is a free mobile and web app that cleans up web pages for easier reading. With Readability, you must create an account, but you also have the option of saving articles to read later.
  • Printfriendly. Probably the simplest tool in this list. Simply navigate to Printfriendly, enter the URL of the site you would like to read, and the site gets cleaned up for printing. You can print or read this optimized document. There’s also a button you can add to your browser bookmarks bar for the quickest way to simplify a web page.

Eliminating Distractions

If you find reading online difficult because of distractions, you may want to try a time management technique. Here are a couple of easily implemented methods:

  • Pomodoro Technique: With this time management strategy, you budget your time into uninterruptible 25 minute segments that are marked by using a timer. After 25 minutes, you take a short break of 3-5 minutes. Requires just a timer.
  • Task/Reward: Are you distracted by social media? Or everytime you need to read online, you have an urge to make a cup of tea? Convert your distractions into rewards. Get that reading done – and reward yourself with whatever was distracting you.
  • Try the SQ3R method for reading. With each text you read, Survey the text for clues to important information. Then, turn all titles and subheads into Questions. Then, Read to find the answers, Recite your questions out loud, and finally, Review the reading for best recall.