Literacy Skills for Book and Online Reading to avoid the shallows of the web

Essay, 2011
21 Seiten


Table of Contents:

III. List of Illustrations

1. Introduction

2. Reading, thinking and learning
2.1 Book and web literary
2.2 The human brain and how it learns:
2.3 Characteristics of book reading
2.4 Characteristics of online reading

3. Literacy in Germany
3.1 Internet usage in Germany:
3.2 Reading behaviour in Germany
3.3 Web literacy in Germany

4. Conclusion: Risk of broadening the knowledge gap and getting lost in the shallows of the web

IV. Bibliography:

III. List of Illustrations

Illustration 1: The Google Brain

Illustration 2: Share of sales in booktrade in 2008 split to genres

Illustration 3: At which occasions do you read books?

Illustration 4: Average daily use of media in 2011

Illustration 5: Research competency on the internet

1. Introduction

This paper reflects on book and web literacy. In particular, the differences between online reading and book reading are outlined by referring to the differences in use of these two mediums and by taking into account the brain processes during reading. The reasons for the various kinds of literacy in regard to books and websites are described. Furthermore, there are some studies done in Germany about reading behaviours which led to the main question, which reading capabilities will be of importance in the future?

In regards to books, this essay does not differ between books readed as a printed version or on an electronical device such as the Kindle Wireless Reader or a similar item, this will not explicitly be considered as online reading.

To specify the meaning of online reading in this essay, all reading of websites, articles, blogs etc. on the web will be considered as online or web reading while disregarding the perception of digital books as there is less difference to reading printed books.

2. Reading, thinking and learning

2.1 Book and web literary

Reading is a basic capability to use new media and to get access to information. Furthermore, reading and text comprehension apply as the core competencies for learning.1 But today, there are various ways of reading. On one hand, the concentrated, deep reading in a book and on the other hand the scanning, purposeful, selective way of reading - practiced mostly online. But does the way we read also change the way we think? There are many discussions concerning this subject. Studies showed that people that use the internet for long hours complain about an increasing difficulty to focus their attention over a long period of time.2

To evaluate this statement it is necessary to think of the content which is read online. The internet is not the medium of choice for intense reading of long stories. It is first and foremost used for entertainment or research. For this kind of online reading it is not always necessary to deepen oneself in the text, especially since those texts are generally shorter than a book. Apart from that even at book reading nonfiction books are more read in the way as reading is practiced online: skimming and purposeful. For example, normally nobody would read an encyclopaedia from the start till the end. The terms are searched in the table of contents or in the register and then the page indicated is scanned till to the relevant paragraph. Only the interesting paragraphs are absorbed intensely, similar to an online text where people also tend to rend only what seems interesting to them.

Has it even been questioned whether reading books discourages people from proactive thinking and reading? Book reception is more or less passive because generally they are well edited, the content is presented step by step in a constructive way with an introduction to the theme and a conclusion with final thoughts.

The 2009 PISA3 studies proves that the reading capability of German pupils raised till the average of the OECD states - in comparison to 2000, when it was below the average in Germany. It was noticeable that especially the amount of pupils with a low reading capability has decreased.4

A possible explanation would be the increasing use of the web. Every way of reading, online reading as well, advances the general reading capabilities. “The Web inspires a teenager […] who might otherwise spend most of her leisure time watching television, to read and write.”5 This leads to the conclusion that the diffusion of the internet has contributed to the improved reading capability of German pupils.

In addition, a recent study about magazine reading and diversity, “Zeitschriftenlektüre and Diversität”, dating 2010, of the German reading foundation “Stiftung Lesen” revealed that the use of magazines in schools instead of or in addition to books had a positive effect on the reading motivation of pupils from an illiterate social background.6 Magazines and websites as well usually offer text in short paragraphs so that they are easy to read. Both media have in common that they often provide small amounts of background respectively additional information which makes the content more interesting.

Most people would agree that special skills, such as the ability to use search engines and to evaluate the online sources, are needed to read good on the internet (see also chapter 2.4 and 3.3). The efficient use of the web activates a learning process and routine learning processes change our minds.

2.2 The human brain and how it learns:

Brain research is more and more able to discover which brain regions are activated at reading - and at reading online. Most exciting is that there is a significant discrepancy between people who often read online and those who do not. The following illustration (see illustration 1, page 4) shows first the brain activity of a person who usually does not use the internet (see brain illustrations in blue). For reading (left side) and surfing on the web (right side) almost the same brain areas are activated. In opposite to that the person who is used to surf on the web (see brain illustrations in red) activates the brain areas that are assigned to complex decision making processes, amongst other reasons because surfing and researching on the web is more proactive than reading a book (see also chapter 2.3 and 2.4).7

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Illustration 1: The Google Brain

Source: Wolf, Christian, Intelligenz 2.0, in: Gehirn & Geist 04/2010, p. 44.

This evokes the question whether the internet is really changing our minds?

The human brain consists mainly of three areas: the brainstem for the elementary vital functions, the Paleomammalian brain - also called limbic system - and the Neocortex. There are about 100 billion nerve cells and all learning or development of the brain is based of connecting or changing the connections of these cells, the neurons.8

The limbic system controls amongst other things the memory as well as the emotions. Having a positive experience leads to the emission of endorphins and this in return causes the emission of Acetylcholin, a neurotransmitter that enables brain cells to connect with each other and form a neural network. These connections are of particular importance for reading and learning processes which also need to build neuronal ramifications. That is one of the reasons why positive emotions support learning processes.9

Due to the neuroplasticity of the brain, it adapts its structure continuously and casually. For example, humans do not need to focus on learning something which is included in their everyday behaviour.10 “Our brains are always in flux, adapting to even small shifts in our circumstances and behaviour.”11

“The brain’s plasticity […] is universal. Virtually all of our neural circuits - whether they’re involved in feeling, seeing, hearing, moving, thinking, learning, perceiving, or remembering - are subject to change.”12

2.3 Characteristics of book reading

Every kind of book, whether it is a fiction story or an educational book, shows a narrative structure. There are introductory and background information, the subject is presented in linear and well structured thoughts. Books are locating main ideas, summarizing, inferencing, and evaluating the information given.

Despite the fact that readers would also be able to flip through the pages of a conventional text in a different order, most books are designed to be read in a linear fashion, and their features are not malleable. Conventional texts present information shaped by the author, and readers have little choice but to follow the author's intended plot or expository structure. Even if they concentrate on the subject, it is still a passive reception. And at guidebooks the table of contents is used to find the information required, similar to the use of search engines at digital reading only that the table of contents is not individual but proposed by the book’s author.

“To read a long book silently required an ability to concentrate intently over a long period of time, to ‘lose oneself’ in the pages of a book […].


1 Cp. lesefoerderung_aid_579292.html, visited on 15.09.2011.

2 Cp. Jungen (2008), wer-im-netz-verbloedet-30094337.html, visited on 15.09.2011.

3 Programme for International Student Assessment

4 Cp. =0&display=5, visited on 26.09.2011.

5 Rich (2008),, visited on 05.08.2011.

6 Cp. =0&display=5, visited on 17.09.2011.

7 Cp. Wolf (2010), p. 44f.

8 Cp. Schipeck,, visited on 19.09.2011.

9 Cp., visited on 19.09.2011.

10 Cp., visited on 19.09.2011.

11 Carr (2010), p.31.

12 Carr (2010), p. 26.

Ende der Leseprobe aus 21 Seiten


Literacy Skills for Book and Online Reading to avoid the shallows of the web
Universität Bayreuth
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
673 KB
Reading, Shallows of the web, Literacy, Lesefähigkeit
Arbeit zitieren
Dipl-Betriebsw. (DH) Verena Ziegler (Autor), 2011, Literacy Skills for Book and Online Reading to avoid the shallows of the web, München, GRIN Verlag,


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