online reading

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

(Roberto Westbrook/Getty Images)


Online reading is the process of extracting meaning from a text that is in a digital format. Also called digital reading.

Most researchers agree that the experience of reading online (whether on a PC or a mobile device) is fundamentally different from the experience of reading print materials. As discussed below, however, the nature and quality of these different experiences (as well as the particular skills required for proficiency) are still being debated and explored.

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • "Unlike reading print sources, reading online is 'nonlinear.' When you read a book or an article in print, you follow a reading sequence—beginning at the start of the text and progressing through the text systematically. However, when you read information online, you frequently jump around from source to source using hyperlinks that direct you to a different Web page."
    (Christine Evans Carter, Mindscapes: Critical Reading Skills and Strategies, 2nd ed. Wadsworth, Cengage, 2014)
  • Comparing Print and Digital Reading Experiences
    "Certainly, as we turn to online reading, the physiology of the reading process itself shifts; we don’t read the same way online as we do on paper. . . .
    "When Ziming Liu, a professor at San Jose State University whose research centers on digital reading and the use of e-books, conducted a review of studies that compared print and digital reading experiences, . . . he found that several things had changed. On screen, people tended to browse and scan, to look for keywords, and to read in a less linear, more selective fashion. On the page, they tended to concentrate more on following the text. Skimming, Liu concluded, had become the new reading: the more we read online, the more likely we were to move quickly, without stopping to ponder any one thought. . . .
    "[P]erhaps digital reading isn’t worse so much as different than print reading. Julie Coiro, who studies digital reading comprehension in elementary- and middle-school students at the University of Rhode Island, has found that good reading in print doesn’t necessarily translate to good reading on-screen. The students do not only differ in their abilities and preferences; they also need different sorts of training to excel at each medium. The online world, she argues, may require students to exercise much greater self-control than a physical book. 'In reading on paper, you may have to monitor yourself once, to actually pick up the book,' she says. 'On the Internet, that monitoring and self-regulation cycle happens again and again.'"
    (Maria Konnikova, "Being a Better Online Reader." The New Yorker, July 16, 2014)
  • Developing New Skills for Online Reading
    - "How does the nature of writing and reading change on the Internet? What, if any, new literacies do we require? We are just discovering the answers to these questions (Afflerbach & Cho, 2008). First, it appears that online reading comprehension typically takes place within a research and problem-solving task (Coiro & Castek, 2010). In short, online reading is online research. Second, online reading also becomes tightly integrated with writing, as we communicate with others to learn more about the questions we explore and as we communicate our own interpretations. A third difference that exists is that new technologies . . . are used online. Additional skills are required to use each of these technologies effectively. . . .
    "Finally, and perhaps most importantly, online reading may require even greater amounts of higher-level thinking than offline reading. In a context in which anyone may publish anything, higher-level thinking skills such as critical evaluation of source material and understanding an author's point of view become especially important online."
    (Donald J. Leu, Elena Forani. and Clint Kennedy, "Providing Classroom Leadership in New Literacies." The Administration and Supervision of Reading Programs, 5th ed., edited by Shelley B. Wepner, Dorothy S. Strickland, and Diana J. Quatroche. Teachers College Press, 2014)
    - "[E]ncouraging students to take on a leadership role in sharing their online skills and strategies has proven to be a beneficial means of promoting acquisition of the new literacies of online reading comprehension (Castek, 2008). The findings from this study suggest that students learn online reading comprehension skills best from other students, within the context of challenging activities designed by the teacher. Increased levels of challenge appeared to prompt students to try multiple approaches to making sense of complex information and encouraged them to think deeply about solving problems."
    (Jacquelynn A. Malloy, Jill M. Castek, and Donald J. Leu, "Silent Reading and Online Reading Comprehension." Revisiting Silent Reading: New Directions for Teachers and Researchers, ed. by Elfrieda H. Hiebert and D. Ray Reutzel. International Reading Association, 2010)
  • Reading More, Remembering Less?
    "We might have more access to information than ever before, but reading things online actually has a negative impact on people's cognition.
    "[In a study conducted at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand,] associate professor Val Hooper and master's student Channa Herath's analysis of online and offline reading behaviour found that online reading generally does not have a positive impact on people's cognition.
    "Concentration, comprehension, absorption and recall rates when engaging with online material were all much lower than traditional text.
    "This is despite people getting through more material thanks to skim reading and scanning online material."
    ("Internet Makes Us Stupid: Study." Sydney Morning Herald [Australia], July 12, 2014)
  • The Transition to Digital Reading
    "It's still words being taken in on a computer screen, and for millions of people it is a daily occurrence, one that now seems as natural to them as anything else in their lives. To think that millions won't be willing or able to make the transition to an overall digital reading experience is naïve. In large measure, people already do the majority of their reading digitally."
    (Jeff Gomez, Print Is Dead: Books in Our Digital Age. Macmillan, 2008)
  • The Lighter Side of Online Reading
    "Anyway, I've done lots of research for the past, you know, few hours, and I found out that most people will believe anything they read. And I know it's true because, you know, I . . . I read it online somewhere."
    (Dr. Doofenshmirtz, "Ferb Latin/Lotsa Latkes." Phineas and Ferb, 2011)
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "online reading." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). online reading. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "online reading." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).