The Internet is changing the way students read and comprehend information.
The Internet is changing the way students read and comprehend information.

From online newspapers to e-readers to social media, the internet has had a profound impact on the ways people read for information and pleasure. However, research also reveals that it has altered the depth and acquisition of reading abilities. The internet has not just changed what people read, but the ways they process and apply the information, leading to both positive and negative consequences for American reading skills.

Shortened Attention Spans

If you've ever gotten a headache staring at pages filled with text or felt like you couldn't focus when reading a simple paragraph, the internet may have affected your attention span. According to Nicholas Carr of The Atlantic, it actually may have rewired your brain. Carr's article "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" reports a widespread decrease in people's abilities to carefully read and comprehend text. Instead of focusing on the overall meaning of an article, people instead tend to "power-browse," searching for key words by skimming the text. This could potentially lead to weaker reading comprehension skills.

Decreased Proficiency

Although the results of studies vary, the National Endowment for the Arts reports a relationship between the lack of time students spend reading for pleasure and decreased reading scores. Their report "To Read or Not to Read" revealed that more than half of people ages 18 to 24 don't read for fun and that the same age group is more likely to spend money on entertainment consoles, TVs, video games and other visual entertainment media than books. In a possible consequence, overall reading test scores are down nationwide, with only 5 percent of students testing at proficient levels.

Language Skills Practice

While some studies demonstrate that social media and texting have had a detrimental impact on students' language use, some studies indicate that these activities might actually be improving their skills. According to The Telegraph, researchers at Coventry University selected a group of nine- and 10-year-olds who did not text and had them perform reading and spelling tests before and after texting over a 10-day period. The results revealed an improvement in test scores that could be linked to texting use. Although many see abbreviations and "textisms" as obstacles, the study shows that students seem to gain valuable writing practice from online communication.

New Technological Potential

Another positive influence of the internet is that it may be teaching students to read, research and interact with texts in ways that traditional reading skills don't allow for. As a result, a report by Bracha Kramarski and Yael Feldman states that educators shouldn't be too quick to label the internet as a detriment. They found that students who were asked to read and research online were more motivated than those using old media. Also, doing research on the internet requires higher-level reasoning and critical thinking skills than research strategies of the past; students must not only look for appropriate information but also consider factors such as genre and author credibility.