It’s tempting, as this article from EdSurge observes, to think of the ‘other’ as a threat; the onslaught of the new and the now obsolete. However, while championing the limitless benefits of reading in print, we must also be careful not to risk dismissing technology. The value in studying the effects of both will be to understand how we can harness them to maximise learning.
Reading changes our brains. Beyond allowing humans to gather and synthesise new information, research shows it is key to cultivating empathy in individuals, too. One study finds this to be particularly true for fictional stories, which allow readers to imagine themselves as other people, in other worlds, with different ideas and challenges.
The effects of reading on the brain are also strongly influenced by the medium through which we read. For a long time, that has been print. And so as digital screens begin to take the place of print books in many classrooms and households, researchers are now looking at how that impacts our ability to process information—and empathise with others.
That was the focus of a talk at the Learning and the Brain conference in San Francisco this week delivered by Maryanne Wolf, director of the Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners, and Social Justice at the University of California, Los Angeles. Wolf started off by explaining to an audience of educators and neuroscientists that the human brain wasn’t made to read. Rather, “when the brain has to learn something new, it creates a new circuit, and that’s what reading does,” explained Wolf, who authored the book Reader Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World.