Reading is a critical part of learning, and reading skills are an essential part of our learning strategies.

With more and more kids using tablets to access reading and learning resources, you might think their reading scores should be impeccable.

After all, there’s no limit to how many articles and books you have access to through the screen, compared to real-life restrictions.

But before you decide to push for your school to furnish classrooms with tablets, or choose to invest in a piece of expensive hardware for your child, you’ll want to look at what the data has to say about tablets and reading scores.

Do Tablets Work? Do Tablets Help Raise Reading Scores?

Based on findings by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) – aptly called the Nation’s Report Card and the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), the answer is no.

In this article, I am going to walk you through 5 reasons why tablets lower reading scores – and show you how they can be used to improve reading scores, too.

5 Reasons Tablets Lower Reading Scores and How They Can Be Used to Improve Reading Scores Too

The Reboot Foundation finds that, based on the most recent data, increased use of tablets or technology reflects in poorer reading scores.

Those who reported using tablets less to study brought in better reading scores compared to those who used tablets often or all the time.

Why would this be the case when, in theory, all the resources and interactive elements of the tablet should make reading better and more intuitive than ever?

1)     Reading on a Screen is Less Intensive

Studies examining students’ reading comprehension and grasp of the text consistently find that people do not read from screens and the printed page in the same way.

Where a book or some printed notes give you a tangible, tactile experience, the screen often does not invite this degree of concentration or focus.

You might find yourself skim-reading when reading on the screen, letting your eyes rove over the words as you scroll down, not necessarily taking the time to absorb the information you are looking at properly.

Researchers have also found that those who read via tablet screens tend not to read long chunks of text thoroughly, and don’t have the tendency to reread.

On the other hand, multiple studies indicate that those who read from a printed page have better recall and understanding of the material.

2)     The Interactivity Can Be A Minus

Reading from a set of notes or a textbook is linear. 

You read from the first sentence and keep going until you get to the last one.

On a screen, though, this may not be the case.

Many elements of an online interface might distract you from reading.

A video embedded into the article might disrupt the flow of your reading, or a hyperlink that prompts you to click away into text on something else might waylay you.

Compared to a book, which has set and unchanging material, the dynamic and interactive nature of online materials might get in the way of thorough reading.

3)     You Use More Mental Resources When Reading from a Screen

Many experiments focusing on reading prowess of tablet users find that those who read off a screen get tired more easily, compared to those reading from a printed page.

Reading from a book or page uses ambient lighting.

Reading from a screen, however, involves working to adjust your eyes to the glare of the screen, reading letters in small fonts, and overall putting pressure on the eyes and brain to process the information.

If you spend long periods staring into the screen, the glare can also affect your sleep, since the blue light tricks your brain into thinking it should be on high alert.

So, if you find that after doing all your reading for a class using a tablet or screen, you can’t go to sleep comfortably, you know the potential culprit.

4)     Tablets Might Delay the Reading Development of Younger Kids

Data analyzed by the Reboot Foundation shows that younger students tend to bring in poorer reading scores if they report using tablets or technology to study compared to older students.

A big reason why this might be happening is that kids receive these tablets without anyone teaching them how to use it.

In lower grades, kids don’t have the same degree of reading experience and capacity as their older counterparts.

Without the development of essential reading strategies, and because of the lack of intensiveness of tablet reading we discussed, younger kids don’t build up their reading comprehension foundations as well as kids who do not use tablets frequently.

Using too much technology at a younger age can also deprive students of invaluable one-to-one learning experiences.

Often, critical thinking and recall about the text are encouraged by discussing it with teachers and classmates.

Technology, for all its wonders, can’t replace the type of learning you can experience in a real-life classroom.

5) Tablets Aren’t Only Used for Studying

One of the biggest deterrents keeping tablets from unlocking their full potential as a valuable study tool is the fact that they are not exclusively for studying.

With or without an internet connection, there are plenty of things a student might get up to on a tablet, prolonging the amount of time they spend on the screen but not the time they spend studying.

Multitasking is one big no-no when it comes to learning.

Despite what you might have heard about multitasking being a forte, splitting your attention amongst a bunch of different things is not very good for concentration, learning, and recall.

Unlike a textbook, which won’t tempt you away with the promise of checking up on messages sent by a friend or prompt you with YouTube notifications of enticing videos, a tablet is full of distractions that can cut down on your study time.

Why Do People Still Support Reading with Tablets?

Despite the data and the consistent correlations found between tablet use and poor reading scores, some educators, parents, and even doctors vouch for using tablets to read.

Dr. Frank Barnhill, author of Mistaken for ADHD, suggests tablets as an excellent resource for ADHD kids who otherwise have troubling concentrating on the text on a page.

His experience with ADHD kids struggling to improve their reading scores despite trying the usual strategies shows that with a digital tablet, ADHD kids can improve their reading comprehension, speed, and recall significantly.

Students at Promise Jr.-Sr. High School, for girls at the Madison Juvenile Correctional Facility, also showed an improvement in reading scores after being given tablets.

The tablets, which are not Internet-enabled and instead use a more secure network that allows the girls to have access to a select library of resources, allow educators to tailor information to students’ learning styles.

For example, one teacher cites the appeal for students of media like videos and animations to make the learning material come to life.

She also records readings sometimes, for the benefit of auditory learners.

Even though the overall picture given by the data is that tablets don’t help improve reading scores, specific case studies like these suggest something different.

So, What’s the Verdict?

Ultimately, you can’t just give a child a tablet and expect them to become better at reading.

You have to teach the child how to use the tablet.

Tablets are great for research reading and getting access to almost unlimited information at the tip of your fingers.

It’s up to you to make full use of this potential.

A Couple of Rules of Thumb for Using Tablets

To use a tablet effectively to raise reading scores, you need to remember the following rules of thumb:

  • Rather than exclusively using a tablet to study, use it to complement other study methods.

Students who use tablets less frequently perform better than those who use them more regularly.

At the same time, students who use tablets moderately perform better than those who don’t use technology to study at all.

  • Don’t use tablets exclusively to teach reading to young children, without first developing their foundation in reading.
  • While tablets are a great resource of interactive elements that can help elevate the reading experience for young kids, they need to develop their core reading abilities for better reading scores.
  • If you are giving your child a tablet to study, ensure they are exclusively using it for learning, at least during the designated times for studying and homework.

Short periods of concentrated studying using a tablet means there is less room to get distracted or be tempted to multitask.

  • Teach kids how to optimize their tablets for reader-friendliness, e.g., increasing the font size, reducing the brightness, using eye-comfort filters, etc.
  • Adjust how you use tablets for reading depending on the student’s learning style. 

For example, audiobooks can be much more helpful for auditory learners to learn and retain information compared to reading text.

Depending on how you use tablets, it can both raise and lower reading scores.

Knowing how to utilize technology best and teaching students how to use these tools strategically can hugely improve their performance in school.

Did this article help you in deciding whether or not to get your child a tablet?

And if they already have one, do you think you now know better how to help them use it to improve reading scores?

Write in and let me know!

pat wymanPat Wyman is the CEO of HowtoLearn.com and America’s Most Trusted Learning Expert. She’s a reading specialist, mom, golden retriever lover and the author of more than 15 books including, Amazing Grades, Smarter Squared and The One-Minute Gratitude Journal: For the Moments That Matter. Her mission is ensuring that you become a successful, life-long learner. You are invited to take the FREE Learning Styles Quiz at HowtoLearn.com