Evaluation of internet search results is a basic digital reading skill – dyslexic readers experience most challenges

5 Nov 2015

Some school-aged children still seem to rely on fairly superficial observations when seeking information on the internet, suggests Postdoctoral Researcher Jarkko Hautala, who is working on the eSeek project financed by the Academy of Finland. The project, implemented in the Departments of Psychology and Education at the University of Jyväskylä under Professor Paavo Leppänen, involves observing the internet reading skills of sixth graders who read normally or slowly at various levels, by means of tracking their eye movements, for instance. This is one of the projects included in the Academy of Finland’s Academy Programme The Future of Learning, Knowledge and Skills (TULOS).

The eye-tracking study will show how the students read search results and how adept they are at selecting the most useful link among them. “They read all of the headlines in the search results, but some students seem to read hardly any of the URL address fields or text extracts included. Unfortunately, slow readers with dyslexia seem to be over-represented in this group. It therefore seems that children with dyslexia also need special support in digital reading,” says Hautala, who is responsible for eye-tracking studies related to the project.

However, most of the children were fairly efficient in analysing the search results. They made only a few mistakes in information-seeking tasks and seemed able to pick out essential information within seconds. “Good basic reading skills clearly speed up the process, but the essential thing is being able to interpret the contents of the search result headline, URL address and text fields in relation to the information needed,” says Hautala.

Interpreting a text extract included in search results seemed to be the hardest part of the task. According to researchers, this is explained by the nature of the information included in the various parts of search results. While the search result headline and URL address give a rough idea of how to classify the result, the text extract provides more detailed information on whether or not the page is related to the subject of the search. “Those who had the patience to read the text extract properly usually did well in information search tasks. On the other hand, a small group of children also seemed to have problems with reading comprehension,” Hautala points out.

Basic research in digital reading supports teaching

“The digitisation of our society is a challenge for us all, regardless of age or profession. At its best, acquiring essential digital skills is a natural part of any learning process. The new curricula strive to address this particular issue. The digitisation of education represents a challenge for teachers in particular, who need training based on researched and updated information on how to promote the teaching of digital skills in their own work. For example, information-based reading on the internet now involves more searching and the combination of various pieces of information,” Leppänen says.   

Although we are already fairly familiar with the neurocognitive basis of reading, research on digital reading is still in its infancy. The objective of the project is to produce pedagogically valuable information identifying the essential cognitive skills and processes in digital reading, by combining the analysis of internet reading skills, eye-tracking studies and neurocognitive studies. Another goal is to create methods of assessing and teaching such skills. A special objective of the study is to produce information that will help children suffering from learning difficulties to cope with the challenges of digital reading.     

More information  

  • Professor Paavo Leppänen, University of Jyväskylä, tel. +358 50 338 4747,
  • Postdoctoral Researcher Jarkko Hautala, University of Jyväskylä, tel. +358 50 589 5302, jarkko.v.hautala(at)       

Academy of Finland Communications
Communications Specialist Anna-Riikka Oravakangas
tel. +358 295 335 056

Last modified 5 Nov 2015
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