Digital Textbooks: The Effects of Input Modality and Distraction on Student Learning at a Hispanic-Serving Institution

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We exposed college students (N = 269; for 126, the first language spoken in the home was English) at a Hispanic-serving institution (HSI) to a passage from a digital psychology textbook in which input modality (reading or listening) and level of distraction were varied. Students did one of the following: read the passage, listened to the passage, read and listened simultaneously, listened while doodling (low distraction), listened while simulating a car ride (moderate distraction), or listened while preparing a meal (high distraction). We used a multiple-choice test to test recall. Student retention differed based on input modality. Specifically, conditions that removed text and replaced it with audio hindered performance. For example, students in conditions that involved reading the text showed higher recall scores compared to students in conditions that involved only listening (β = −2,483, p < .001). Performance worsened as we added distractors. Finally, the results suggest that students’ background with English is important for their retention of textbook information that is presented in English. Specifically, it appears that having text is more important to students less proficient in English than it is to more proficient English speakers. Our results suggest that reading digital texts leads to better recall than does simply listening to them, but distraction and early language experience may be important factors to consider when determining recommendations for digital textbook use.

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