Does interactivity affect comprehension and memory for online news? A study conducted by Hesham Mesbah at Kuwait University suggests that it does, but not always for the better.
Mesbah had four groups of subjects listen to a radio newscast on computer speakers. All of the groups heard the same eight stories. He played the newscast for the first group (no interactivity); the second group had to click a link on a Web page to hear the full newscast (low interactivity). The third group had to click separate links to hear each item in the newscast (moderate interactivity); and the fourth group was given two links per item: one for the audio file and another for more text and visual information (high interactivity).
To test recall, Mesbah used a multiple-choice fact-based questionnaire. He asked open-ended “how” and “why” questions to assess comprehension.
The results indicate that moderate interactivity has the biggest payoff in improving recall and comprehension. When listeners had some control over the pace of the information, they remembered more details and understood developments better. Subjects in the third group, who clicked a separate link to hear each story, performed best on the post-tests.
But adding more links and background details to the Web page did not result in better memory or comprehension. The fourth group’s scores were almost identical to those of the second group. Mesbah says they appeared to have been distracted by the additional information on the page.
Mesbah’s study was presented at the 2005 AEJMC convention.