a man viewing an ebook

EID Hall of Fame – A New Take on eBook Reading

There have been several articles posted on the EID site over the past year that have aroused significant discussion. Here is one of the articles that received the most discussion, reposted for your reading pleasure. Were you one of our loyal readers who shared, reposted, and debated it? Did that experience provide tangible professional value for you, or just hours of fun? We would love to hear about your experiences in the comments.

We have had many conversations over the past years about how the move to digital books is impacting our reading. Some claims are backed up by rigorous research and some are just pure speculation or even fear mongering. Of course, whenever there are strong claims on both sides of an argument, the truth is usually a nuanced middle path and eBooks are no different. The reality is that the effectiveness of eBooks is context specific and results will depend on what the objectives of the book are (for example entertainment versus education) and how they are implemented (UI and UX).

So I was happy to see this paper from Heather and Jordan Schugar at West Chester University. Their study focused on middle school students, and educational context, and the iPad platform. This distinction is important because the results may be generalizable outside of these categories, but not necessarily. Read on.

Multi-Touch devices and tablet computers allow readers to interact with text in new and innovative ways. However, reading comprehension research with multi-touch devices is still in its infancy and students will need to adapt new reading strategies in order to maximize their learning in this environment.

One of the results is that the interactive visual features could be distracting. Many students engaged with these features at the expense of the technical content contained in the text. This has very important human factors implications. It doesn’t mean that interaction is bad; it means that we need to design them carefully. It also means that we need to give students metacognitive learning skills so that they know how to use the interactive features to improve their learning. It means we want to use a gamification strategy rather than a game design strategy.

Here is where I want to point out the nuance though. The study looked at middle school students. Is this the age group most susceptible to distraction from cool-looking interactivity (implying we don’t need to worry as much for older students)? Or is it a university concern?

Is the distraction from interactivity only relevant in an educational context (because in an entertainment context, the importance of fun is more important than recall and deep comprehension of the content? Or are there hazards of distraction in entertainment as well?

Is this an iPad issue or a tablet issue primarily? Or is it true for all eBook hardware, including phones, specialized readers, and whatever is coming out next? This might sound less actionable when the reader is surrounded by an OS that has its own distractions. But this has different implications for design solutions.

Image credit: “NASA Visualization Explorer” by NASA Goddard used under CC BY 2.0

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