Springer Nature is making Coronavirus research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Media multitasking, attention, and comprehension: a deep investigation into fragmented reading


As students are processing information from digital media and educational materials, they are increasingly being interrupted by competing media and their surroundings. This trend of increased interruptions suggests the continuous increase of instances of fragmented reading in learning settings for the younger generation of students. This study investigated learning in situations where information and the processing of information were either fragmented or congruous. In this study, information (congruous and fragmented) and information processing (congruous and fragmented) were examined using a 2 × 2 design on reading materials. Four classes totaling 129 students participated in the study. The effects of these two factors on reading skills (including reading attention and comprehension), perceived reading motivation, persistence, and attitude of primary school students were investigated. The findings showed four effects. (1) Significant differences in the reading comprehension and attention scores of the four student groups; (2) significant influence of reading processing (congruous vs. fragmented) on reading comprehension results; (3) an interaction between genders and reading conditions, that is, girls exhibited higher reading attention than boys when using fragmented reading materials; and (4) a relationship among different levels of reading engagement and reading skills, that is, readers with medium-level reading engagement gained high reading scores regardless of their reading conditions. Fragmented information and fragmented information processing are increasingly common in and out of classroom. The results of this study may help in the design of instruction, instructional activities, and instructional support, especially amid the expansion of ICT in various educational contexts.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4


  1. Alexander, P. A. (2012). The disciplined reading and learning research laboratory. Reading into the future: Competence for the 21st century. Educational Psychologist,47(4), 259–280.

  2. Alexander, B., Hubers, C., Schwanen, T., Dijst, M., & Ettema, D. (2011). Anything, anywhere, anytime? Developing indicators to assess the spatial and temporal fragmentation of activities. Environment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Planning,38(4), 678–705.

  3. Bitsherald. (2017). Attention fragmentation in the digital age. Bitsherald. Retrieved from http://bitsherald.org/2017/02/08/attention-fragmentation-in-the-digital-age/.

  4. Bowman, L. L., Levine, L. E., Waite, B. M., & Gendron, M. (2010). Can students really multitask? An experimental study of instant messaging while reading. Computers & Education,54, 927–931.

  5. Carr, N. (2011). The shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

  6. Chamberlain, L. B. (2009). The amazing adolescent brain: What every educator, youth serving professional, and healthcare provider needs to know. Retrieved from http://www.multiplyingconnections.org/sites/default/files/Teen%20Provider%20article%20(2)_0.pdf.

  7. Christensen, T. H., & Røpke, I. (2010). Can practice theory inspire studies of ICTs in everyday life? In J. Postill & B. Bräuchler (Eds.), Theorising media and practice (pp. 233–256). New York: Berghahn Books.

  8. Commodari, E., & Guarnera, M. (2005). Attention and reading skills. Perceptual and Motor Skills,100(2), 375–386.

  9. Connell, J. P., & Wellborn, J. G. (1991). Competence, autonomy, and relatedness: A motivational analysis of self-system processes. In M. R. Gunnar & L. A. Sroufe (Eds.), The Minnesota symposia on child psychology (Vol. 23, pp. 43–77)., Self-processes and development Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

  10. Cowen, T. (2009). Create your own economy: The path to prosperity in a disordered world. New York: Dutton.

  11. D’Souza, D. C., Sewell, R. A., & Ranganathan, M. (2009). Cannabis and psychosis/schizophrenia: Human Studies. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience,259(7), 413–431.

  12. Denk, M., Weber, M., & Belfin, R. (2007). Mobile learning challenges and potentials. International Journal of Mobile Learning and Organisation,1(2), 122–139.

  13. DiPerna, J. C., Volpe, R. J., & Elliott, S. N. (2002). A model of academic enablers and elementary reading/language arts achievement. School Psychology Review,31, 298–312.

  14. Elli Bleeker. (2010). On reading in the digital age. Retrieved from https://www.lezen.nl/sites/default/files/On%20reading%20in%20the%20digital%20age.pdf.

  15. Feldt, L. S. (1961). The use of extreme groups to test for the presence of a relationship. Psychometrika,26, 307–316.

  16. Foroughi, C. K., Werner, N. E., Barragán, D., & Boehm-Davis, D. A. (2015). Interruptions disrupt reading comprehension. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General,144(3), 704.

  17. Ge, X. S. (2006). The top ten factors of influencing learning attention. Instructional Research,6, 555e557.

  18. Grabe, W. (2009). Reading in a second language: Moving from theory to practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  19. Guthrie, J. T., & Klauda, S. L. (2014). Effects of classroom practices on reading comprehension, engagement, and motivations for adolescents. Reading Research Quarterly,49(4), 387–416.

  20. Guthrie, J. T., Wigfield, A., & VonSecker, C. (2000). Effects of integrated instruction on motivation and strategy use in reading. Journal of Educational Psychology,92(2), 331.

  21. Hillesund, T. (2010). Digital reading spaces: How expert readers handle books, the Web and electronic paper. First Monday, 15(4). Retrieved from http://firstmonday.org/article/view/2762/2504.

  22. Hodgkinson-Williams, C. A., Paskevicius, M., Cox, G., Donnelly, S., Czerniewicz, L., & Lee-Pan, S. (2013). 365 days of openness: The emergence of OER at the University of Cape Town. In R. McGreal, W. Kinuthia, S. Marshall & T. McNamara (Eds.) Perspectives on open and distance learning: Open educational resources: Innovation, research and practice. Commonwealth of Learning and Athabasca University, Vancouver. Retrieved from https://oerknowledgecloud.org/sites/oerknowledgecloud.org/files/pub_PS_OER-IRP_CH3.pdf.

  23. Housand, A., & Reis, S. M. (2008). Self-regulated learning in reading: Gifted pedagogy and instructional settings. Journal of Advanced Academics,20(1), 108–136.

  24. Huang, X. (2016). Analysis of the application of fragmented learning in the liberal arts students information literacy training. In The 5th international conference on social science, education and humanities research (SSEHR, 2016).

  25. Hubers, C., Dijst, M., & Schwanen, T. (2015). The fragmented worker? ICTs, coping strategies and gender differences in the temporal and spatial fragmentation of paid labour. Time & Society. https://doi.org/10.1177/0961463X15609830.

  26. Jabr, F. (2013). Why the brain prefers paper. Scientific American,309(5), 48–53.

  27. Jeong, S. H., & Hwang, Y. (2016). Media multitasking effects on cognitive vs. attitudinal outcomes: A meta-analysis. Human Communication Research,42(4), 599–618.

  28. Just, M. A., & Carpenter, P. A. (1992). A capacity theory of comprehension: Individual differences in working memory. Psychological Review,99(1), 122–149.

  29. Kamil, M. L., Pearson, P. D., Moje, E. B., & Afflerbach, P. (Eds.). (2011). Handbook of reading research (Vol. 4). New York: Routledge.

  30. Kelley, T. L. (1939). The selection of upper and lower groups for the validation of test items. Journal of Educational Psychology,30, 17–24.

  31. Kuiper, E., Volman, M., & Terwel, J. (2009). Developing web literacy in collaborative inquiry activities. Computers & Education,52(3), 668–680.

  32. Lang, A., & Chrzan, J. (2015). Media multitasking: Good, bad, or ugly? Communication Yearbook,39(1), 99–128.

  33. Lau, K. L., & Ho, E. S. C. (2016). Reading performance and self-regulated learning of Hong Kong students: What we learnt from PISA 2009. The Asia-Pacific Education Researcher,25(1), 159–171.

  34. Levine, L. E., Waite, B. M., & Bowman, L. L. (2007). Electronic media use, reading, and academic distractibility in college youth. CyberPsychology & Behavior,10(4), 560–566.

  35. Levy, D. M. (1997). I read the news today, oh boy: Reading and attention in digital libraries. In The 2nd ACM international conference on digital libraries (pp. 202–211), Philadelphia, PA: ACM.

  36. Lin, L. (2009). Breadth-biased versus focused cognitive control in media multitasking behaviors. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,106(37), 15521–15522.

  37. Lin, L., Lee, J., & Robertson, T. (2011). Reading while watching video: The effect of video content on reading comprehension and media multitasking ability. Journal of Educational Computing Research,45(2), 183–201.

  38. Lin, L., & Lipsmeyer, B. (2015). The environmental and technological factors of multitasking. In A. Mesquita & C.-W. Tsai (Eds.), Human behavior, psychology, and social interaction in the digital era (pp. 1–20). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

  39. Lin, L., Robertson, T., & Lee, J. (2009). Reading performances between novices and experts in different media multitasking environments. Computers in the Schools,26(3), 169–186.

  40. Liu, Z., & Huang, X. (2016). Reading on the move: A study of reading behavior of undergraduate smartphone users in China. Library & Information Science Research,38(3), 235–242.

  41. Margolin, S., Driscoll, C., Toland, M., & Kegler, J. (2013). E-reader, computer screens, or paper: Does reading comprehension change across media platforms. Applied Cognitive Psychology,27(4), 512–519.

  42. Martin, M. O., Mullis, I. V., & Hooper, M. (2017). Methods and procedures in PIRLS 2016. Amsterdam: International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement.

  43. McKenna, M. C., & Stahl, S. A. (2003). Assessment for reading instruction. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

  44. Mullis, I. V. S., & Martin, M. O. (Eds.). (2015). PIRLS 2016 assessment framework (2nd ed.). Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College, TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center.

  45. Mullis, I., Martin, M., Kennedy, A., & Foy, P. (2007). PIRLS 2006 international report. Boston: International Study Center, Boston University.

  46. Murrah, J. (2013). Fragmented thinking and affaire. Retrieved from http://surviveyourpartnersaffair.com/blog/2013/05/21/fragmeted-thinking-and-affairs/.

  47. Naumann, J. (2015). A model of online reading engagement: Linking engagement, navigation, and performance in digital reading. Computers in Human Behavior,53, 263–277.

  48. Nuttall, C. (1996). Teaching reading skills in a foreign language. Oxford: Heinemann.

  49. Ophir, E., Nass, C., & Wagner, A. D. (2009). Cognitive control in media multitaskers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,106(37), 15583–15587.

  50. Pilotta, J. J., Schultz, D. E., Drenik, G., & Rist, P. (2004). Simultaneous media usage: A critical consumer orientation to media planning. Journal of Consumer Behavior,3(3), 285–292. https://doi.org/10.1002/cb.141.

  51. Raab, R. (2010). Books and literacy in the digital age. American Libraries,41(8), 34–37.

  52. Ray, M., & Chi, M. (2003). Gender differences in patterns of searching the web. Journal of Educational Computer Research,29(3), 335–348.

  53. Rekart, J. L. (2011). Taking on multitasking. Phi Delta Kappan,93(4), 60–63.

  54. Rothbart, M. K., & Posner, M. I. (2015). The developing brain in a multitasking world. Developmental Review,35, 42–63. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dr.2014.12.006.

  55. Ruddell, R. B., & Unrau, N. J. (1994). Reading as a meaning-construction process: The reader, the text, and the teacher. In R. B. Ruddell, M. R. Ruddell, & H. Singer (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes of reading (pp. 996–1056). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

  56. Shihab, I. A. (2011). Reading as critical thinking. Asian Social Science,7(8), 209.

  57. Siemens, G. (2013). Massive open online courses: Innovation in education. Open Educational Resources: Innovation, Research and Practice,5, 5–15.

  58. Snow, C. (2002). Reading for understanding: Toward an R&D program in reading comprehension. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation.

  59. Stoet, G., O’Connor, D. B., Conner, M., & Laws, K. R. (2013). Are women better than men at multi-tasking? BMC Psychology,1(1), 18.

  60. Tronzo, W. (2009). The fragment: An incomplete history (pp. 1–7). Los Angeles, CA: Getty Publications, Getty Research Institute.

  61. Van Alstyne, G., Richards, L., Logan, R. K., Stein, S., Lyman, P., Roberts, K., et al. (2011). 2020 media futures. Toronto: Strategic Innovation Lab.

  62. Wigfield, A., Guthrie, J. T., Perencevich, A. T., Klauda, S. L., Mcrae, A., & Barbosa, P. (2008). Role of reading engagement in mediating effects of reading comprehension instruction on reading outcomes. Psychology in the Schools,45(5), 432–445.

  63. Yang, X., Li, X., & Lu, T. (2015). Using mobile phones in college classroom settings: Effects of presentation mode and interest on concentration and achievement. Computers & Education,88, 292–302.

  64. Zhang, M. (2013). Supporting middle school students’ online reading of scientific resources: Moving beyond cursory, fragmented, and opportunistic reading. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning,29(2), 138–152.

  65. Zhang, C. Z., Guo, Q., & Mu, X. (2016). How female executives affect firm performance? A multi-approach perspective. Advances in Economics and Business,4(7), 351–365.

Download references


This study is sponsored by Peak Discipline Construction Project of Education at East China Normal University.

Author information

Correspondence to Xiaoqing Gu.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Liu, Y., Gu, X. Media multitasking, attention, and comprehension: a deep investigation into fragmented reading. Education Tech Research Dev 68, 67–87 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-019-09667-2

Download citation


  • Fragmented reading
  • Fragmented information processing
  • Multitasking
  • Reading skill
  • Comprehension
  • Attention