Another Study: Reading Comprehension on the Small Screen

Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader has referenced yet another study about reading comprehension on mobile-sized screens.  The study, from Neilson Norman, contradicts prior research that suggested readers comprehend less well when reading on a smaller screen when compared to a full-sized monitor.

"In our research, conducted six years later, we found a surprisingly different result. We asked 276 participants to read a variety of articles on various topics on either a mobile phone or a personal computer. Some of the articles were easy and some were difficult. After each article, we asked participants to answer a few questions to measure their level of comprehension of the content. We found no practical differences in the comprehension scores of the participants, whether they were reading on a mobile device or a computer." 

A summary:  overall, comprehension scores were slightly higher on mobile, but reading was also slightly slower. "It may be the case" that comprehension of "very difficult" content may be more difficult on smaller screens, but (as always it seems) "More research is needed to know if this effect is real"

Hoffeleder is "not surprised to read about the different results nor am I puzzled by the conflicting research. The differences can be explained by the differences in reading material used for the studies, and by improvements in mobile tech over the past six years."

If the reading experience on mobile-sized screens (on which most library e-books are read) has improved with technology, excellent.  RF would be interested in seeing a study that compared comprehension of fiction and non-fiction e-books typically available from libraries, at different reading levels, in print, monitor, and mobile (e-ink and otherwise), to see if this study's results could be replicated and if the many claims that print comprehension outstrips digital might be tested. Any library researchers out there up for the task?