‘Learning difficulties’, Science and Technology section, Economist, October 14th 2010

Ben Crowley2 Blogs Leave a Comment

This is the shortest article I have ever reviewed for the blog but one of the most surprising and counter-intuitive. Research at the highly respected Ivy League University of Princeton shows that the typeface used in printed material has a major impact on the student’s ability to learn.

In what seems to be a valid series of experiments with volunteers between the ages of 18 and 40, half were given material in an ‘easy to read’ font (actually Arial Black as used in the heading above) while the other half were given more ‘difficult to read’ fonts, more like the one being used here. The surprising result was that the retention of information was far better when the ‘difficult’ fonts were used.

There was also a follow up study with high school teachers and the results were confirmed; the more students have to struggle to read the words, the harder they work and the more they retain. The conclusion is that text books should be made harder to read if they are to be effective.

I was not entirely convinced of the general principle but can use this as a rationalisation of our long-standing use of Times New Roman, and our restriction of Arial Black to headings!

Click here to read the article in full;
http://www.economist.com/node/17248892

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