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Get it? Text styles, textiles? …. No? Alright, alright. I will take my terrible puns elsewhere

Welcome to this week’s LSW, where (you guessed it), we’re covering different styles of text and their impact on learning. Specifically, this week we’re exploring the following questions:

  • Does handwritten or typeface text improve learning performance?
  • What is the optimal style and size for Traditional Chinese in mobile learning?

Handwritten or Typeface?

I recently had the absolute pleasure of speaking with a reader about text/font styles. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a topic that I’d pondered lately. I’m so glad about that chat though, because it brought me to an area of work to explore again!

This first study sought to explore dynamic text in a particular context. Past work has shown mixed results regarding dynamic vs. static texts on learner engagement and performance (Cross et al., 2013; Fiorella et al., 2019). In this study, comparisons were made between handwritten text and typeface text (Ram & Zhao, 2022). For the handwritten text, think Khan Academy style - or, for those of us from the “overhead” days, that works too!

(Li & Sun, 2018)

In the research, font style (handwritten or typeface) was assessed alongside which type of motion the text appeared with. The 3 motions were appear-letter, appear-word, and trace-letter. For a better representation of the types of text presented, see image (Ram & Zhao, 2022).

(Ram & Zhao, 2022)

The last big variable was the usage context - “on-the-go” or stationary. One reason this study is a huge contribution to the text literature is because of the “on-the-go” context, which was evaluated with an optical head-mounted display (OHMD). For OHMDs, you can think of something like Google Glass. While prior studies have evaluated text in other situations, this study is unique and expands by evaluating if modality matters. The “stationary” context had learners sit at a stationary desktop (Ram & Zhao, 2022).

Recap of what was evaluated (TL;DR): 1. Font styles: handwritten vs. typeface, 2. Motions: appear-letter, appear-word, and trace-letter, 3. Context: on-the-go and stationary (Ram & Zhao, 2022).

Results illustrated that handwriting was not better than typeface font. In fact, typeface was rated as more legible, which learners indicated as important for learning (surprise!). Recall was highest “when the whole word appeared immediately than when the letters were traced out,” which was supported by learner preference as well (Ram & Zhao, 2022). Overall, typeface font paired with appear-word motion performed the best and was the most preferred - this is supported by the idea of visual chunking (Ram & Zhao, 2022).

Although the study itself is behind a paywall, the first author has a video where he walks through the research and outcomes - find it here!

Key Takeaway(s): Whether learners are “on-the-go” with an optical head-mounted display or sitting at a desk, the results from this study suggest that using a typeface font paired with appear-word motion for learning videos is best for recall!

Read More ($): Ram, A., & Zhao, S. (2022). Does Dynamically Drawn Text Improve Learning? Investigating the Effect of Text Presentation Styles in Video Learning. CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '22), Association for Computing Machinery, 89, 1–12.

“Using typeface appear-word style resulted in a 46.7% improvement in recall scores on average than handwritten trace-based styles.”
- Ram & Zhao (2022)**

Mobile Text Readability

Similar to our first article, this next article evaluated the font style and font size of Traditional Chinese characters when viewing on a smartphone (Huang, 2019). While past work has looked at the effects of font size (generally finding that “bigger is better”), this study expands that work by adding font style. Further, past research with smartphones generally limited the viewing distance of learners, which has advantages but may not be quite as “natural” as other tactics. In Huang’s (2019) study, viewing distance was not limited, allowing users to adjust to their “optimal viewing distance.”

In the research, 3 character sizes (10 pt, 12 pt, and 14 pt) were evaluated in 3 different typefaces (see image; Hei, Ming, and Kai styles). Additionally, reading comprehension, reading time, and reader preferences were assessed in each of the conditions for learners.

(Huang, 2019)

Unfortunately, reading comprehension illustrated a ceiling effect, meaning almost all readers scored incredibly high - leaving little to no variability. Thus, the results did not show a significant difference between typeface or font size (Huang, 2019). However, future research should explore reading comprehension with a more difficult topic!

Regarding reading time, readers actually spent less time reading with the smallest font (10 pt), which opposes past work with desktop reading. This is likely due to the previously mentioned “fixed distance,” as well as larger font requiring more time for scrolling on a mobile device (Huang, 2019). There was no significant difference between preferences among font sizes for readers, likely due to being able to adjust viewing distance. However, preferences did exist for the typeface, with the Ming style significantly lower than the Kai and Hei styles (Huang, 2019).

It’s important to take font styles and size into account when considering readability, usability, and learner outcomes. When Traditional Chinese characters are being used with mobile content, this study suggests that smaller characters are best and should be paired with the Kai or Hei style (Huang, 2019).

Key Takeaway(s): When asking people to learn, it’s important to consider font styles and size for readability purposes! According to Huang (2019), mobile content in Traditional Chinese should use a smaller font (10 pt) alongside the Kai or Hei style for optimal readability.

Read More ($): Huang, S. M. (2019). Effects of font size and font style of Traditional Chinese characters on readability on smartphones. International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics, 69.

Pets of Learning Science Weekly

This week, we have an adorable floof with an amazing side pony! Meet the marvelous Polly, reader Felix H.’s Tibet Terrier. Polly “is a happy dog who likes training but more because of the sweets instead of the learning part”

We’re fans of snacks here too! Thanks for sharing her with us, Felix!

Send us your pet pics at

Wondering why we’re including animal photos in a learning science newsletter? It may seem weird, we admit. But we’re banking on the baby schema effect and the “power of Kawaii.” So, send us your cute pet pics -- you’re helping us all learn better!

The LSW Crew

Learning Science Weekly is written and edited by Katie Erhardt, Ph.D.

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