Getting dumber by the day online

Last updated 10:36 12/07/2014
WEB OF INTRIGUE: A study has found that reading online affects understanding, with people remembering little of what they had read.

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Countless  hours spent online could be making us dumber, a new study has found. Victoria University researchers examined online reading habits, and have suggested changes may be needed in how the tech savvy generation is taught.

In general, online reading was found to have a negative impact on understanding. Skim reading and scanning was the most common online reading behaviour.

People were churning through more material, but they took a scattergun approach, and remembered little of what they had seen. "Multi-tasking when reading online was common, with activities such as reading emails, checking news . . . and viewing video clips providing distractions, which could have something to do with it," said Dr Val Hooper of the School of Information Management.

"People almost expect to be interrupted when they're on their computers."

The three main reasons people gave for reading online were information seeking, work or study and pleasure.

People still enjoyed reading books, magazines or e-readers, the study found.

Hooper and masters student Channa Herath said their research had implications for the way young people were taught: "I think it makes sense to look at getting messages across in ways in which readers expect to receive it now, rather than how it was given in the past. Long chunks of text aren't exactly going to appeal to today's students."

University of Auckland clinical psychologist Dr Ian Lambie hoped there would always be a place for traditional textbooks and learning. However, the days of students being given "vast amounts of information" were long gone.

Lambie believed attention spans and social skills were being affected by the use of tablets and smartphones. "Like everything there's a balance. If they're overused as a babysitting device, it can mean the child is missing out on picking up normal social cues."

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- The Dominion Post


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