March 27, 2010, 02:18 PM ET
Students Retain Information in Print-Like Formats Better
A study at Arizona State University has found that students had lower reading comprehension of scrolling online material than they did of print-like versions.
The report, "To Scroll or Not to Scroll: Scrolling, Working Memory Capacity, and Comprehending Complex Texts," described how two groups, of 20 students each, wrote essays after reading materials in either in print-like or scrolling formats. Those given the scrolling versions to read had poorer comprehension of the material.
It is harder to keep track of where information is located within an online document versus the more-apparent page markers in a print-style text, said Christopher A. Sanchez, a co-author of the study. He is an assistant professor of applied psychology at Arizona State.
But the scrolling interface of online documents had little impact on the students in the study with high working-memory capacity, or a good ability to process and retrieve information. Mr. Sanchez said such people could have more cognitive resources able to remember static locations within an online text.
More study is needed on the impact that scrolling has on learning, he said, especially given the prevalence of online tools in the classroom and in distance learning.
"What it could do is give us recognition of how to better design materials so all people learn well, so we don't have this group of low-working-memory-capacity individuals who are behind the curve and are for some reason failing to learn when this material is in this scrolling form," he said.