Student perceptions of reading digital texts for university study


  • Helen Hargreaves Lancaster University
  • Sarah Robin Lancaster University
  • Elizabeth Caldwell Lancaster University



academic reading , digital reading, print reading, note-taking, reading preferences


An increasingly important aspect of undergraduate study is the ability to deal with reading academic texts digitally. Whilst the literature suggests that students prefer reading print texts (Foasberg, 2014; Mizrachi, 2015) and often have a deeper level of engagement with texts in this medium (Mangen et al., 2013; Delgado et al., 2018), the reality is that, for most students, digital texts are the norm. Study guides often focus on reading strategies that are considered broadly applicable to both digital and print formats. However, the differences between the two mediums are likely to impact on the strategies used, with students developing their own approaches as they gain more experience. In this paper, we present findings from a study exploring students’ perspectives and practices in relation to digital reading. We carried out focus group interviews with 20 students in their second or final year of undergraduate degree programmes. Our analysis reveals that reading texts digitally does indeed form the bulk of students’ reading activity, with ease and speed of accessibility, cost, and environmental considerations influencing this choice, and in some cases, precluding reading in print. However, despite the prominence of digital reading, some aspects of print reading – in particular the scope for more sustained focus, detailed reading and enjoyment of the experience – were highly valued by the students. Students’ approaches to reading digital texts varied depending on reading purpose, but, in general, students had developed a range of techniques to help them navigate digital reading.

Author Biographies

Helen Hargreaves, Lancaster University

Helen Hargreaves is a Learning Developer for EAP (English for Academic Purposes) at Lancaster University, where she runs a range of language development opportunities for students at all levels, including one-to-ones, workshops and short courses. Along with Beth Caldwell and Sarah Robin, Helen has recently completed an ALDinHE funded research project into students’ approaches to reading in the digital age.

Sarah Robin, Lancaster University

Sarah Robin is a Learning Developer at Lancaster University. She works primarily with postgraduate students in Lancaster’s Management School supporting students with academic writing, managing peer mentoring and co-creating teaching materials for programmes throughout the school. Her research interests include student agency and voice, inclusivity and curriculum design. Prior to working in learning development, Sarah gained her doctorate in history, publishing in the history of emotions, and teaching at Lancaster and the University of Manchester.

Elizabeth Caldwell, Lancaster University

Elizabeth Caldwell, FHEA, CeLP, is the Learning Developer for the Faculty of Health and Medicine at Lancaster University. In addition to her learning development work, Beth is an active multi-disciplinary researcher with current projects centred on health communication in children’s literature.


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How to Cite

Hargreaves, H., Robin, S. and Caldwell, E. (2022) “Student perceptions of reading digital texts for university study”, Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, (24). doi: 10.47408/jldhe.vi24.817.