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University of Connecticut Neag School of Education ORCA

Understanding The New Literacies of Online Reading Comprehension

A new literacies perspective of online reading comprehension frames online reading comprehension as a process of problem-based inquiry involving the new skills, strategies, dispositions, and social practices that take place as we use the Internet. One difference from earlier models of traditional print comprehension is that the new literacies of online reading comprehension are defined by a process of self-directed text construction with at least five processing practices required while reading on the Internet: (a) reading to identify important questions; (b) reading to locate information; (c) reading to critically evaluate information; (d) reading to synthesize information, and (e) reading and writing to communicate information (Leu, Kinzer, Coiro & Cammack, 2004). Within these five areas reside the skills, strategies, and dispositions that are distinctive to online reading comprehension as well as others that are important for offline reading comprehension.

Another difference from earlier models of print comprehension is the inclusion of communication within online reading comprehension. Online reading and writing are so closely connected that it is not possible to separate them; we read online as authors and we write online as readers. Thus, online reading comprehension includes the online reading and communication skills required by texting, blogs, wikis, video, shared writing spaces (such as Google Docs), and social networks such as Nings.

Research in the new literacies of online reading comprehension has provided a number of useful insights:

  • Online reading comprehension does not completely overlap with offline reading comprehension; new reading comprehension skills are required (Coiro, 2007; Leu et al., 2005; Leu et al., 2007).
  • Challenged readers, who possess online reading comprehension skills, may read online better than students who perform higher with offline reading comprehension but lack online reading skills (Leu et al., 2007).
  • Prior knowledge may contribute less to online reading comprehension than offline reading comprehension, since readers gather required prior knowledge online, as a part of the reading paths they follow (Coiro, 2011).
  • While adolescent “digital natives” may be skilled with social networking, texting, video downloads, mp3 downloads, and mashups, they are not generally skilled with online information use, including locating and critically evaluating information (Bennett, Maton, & Kervin, 2008; Leu, Reinking, et al., 2007).
  • Students appear to learn online reading comprehension skills best from other students, within the context of challenging activities designed by the teacher (Castek, 2008).
  • A taxonomy of online reading skills is emerging from think-aloud, verbal protocols using skilled online readers (Leu, Coiro, Castek, Hartman, Henry, & Reinking, 2008) [CLICK HERE TO VIEW THIS CHECKLIST OF ONLINE READING SKILLS]

These findings are important as we consider realigning public policies in education with the challenges of global competitiveness and information economies. State reading standards and state reading assessments in the U. S., for example, have yet to include any online reading comprehension skills. This, despite the fact that several international assessments have already begun to do so such as theProgramme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). Moreover, the following observations have not changed since they were first observed several years ago (Leu, Ataya, & Coiro, 2002):

  1. Not a single state in the U.S. measures students’ ability to read search engine results during state reading assessments.
  2. Not a single state in the U.S. measures students’ ability to critically evaluate information that is found online to determine its reliability.
  3. No state writing assessment, in the U.S., measures students’ ability to compose effective email messages.
  4. Few, if any, states in the U.S. permit all students to use a word processor on the state writing assessment.

The ORCA project seeks to communicate to states important information about the assessment of online reading comprehension and a preliminary version of what this might look like for adolescents. Being able to evaluate student progress in the area of online reading comprehension will prove useful to policy makers, researchers, and teachers in an age of online information and communication. For policy makers, it will provide student performance data on a new and especially important aspect of reading in our schools that is not measured by traditional reading assessments. For researchers, it will provide an important instrument to study a new and rapidly expanding area of research. For teachers, it will permit the evaluation of individual student’s online reading comprehension ability in order to inform new elements of classroom instruction. 



Bennet, S., Maton, K. and Kervin, L. (2008). The 'digital natives': A critical review of the evidence. British journal of educational technology.

Castek, J. (2008). How do 4th and 5th grade students acquire the new literacies of online reading comprehension? Exploring the contexts that facilitate learning. Unpublished doctoral dissertation: University of Connecticut.

Coiro, J. (2011). Predicting reading comprehension on the Internet: Contributions of offline reading skills, online reading skills, and prior knowledge. Journal of Literacy Research, 43(4), 352-392.

Coiro, J., & Dobler, E. (2007). Exploring the online reading comprehension strategies used by sixth-grade skilled readers to search for and locate information on the Internet. Reading Research Quarterly, 42(2), 214–257.

Leu, D.J., Ataya, R., & Coiro, J. (2002). Assessing assessment strategies among the 50 states: Evaluating the literacies of our past or our future? Paper presented at the National Reading Conference. Miami, FL.

Leu, D. Castek, J., Hartman, D., Coiro, J., Henry, L., Kulikowich, et al. (2005). Evaluating the development of scientific knowledge and new forms of reading comprehension during online learning. Final report presented to the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory/Learning Point Associates. Retrieved May 15, 2007 from

Leu, D.J., Jr., Kinzer, C.K., Coiro, J., Cammack, D. (2004). Toward a theory of new literacies emerging from the Internet and other information and communication technologies. In R.B. Ruddell & N. Unrau (Eds.), Theoretical Models and Processes of ReadingFifth Edition(1568-1611). International Reading Association: Newark, DE. Retrieved October 15, 2008 from

Leu, D. J., Zawilinski, L., Castek, J., Banerjee, M., Housand, B., Liu, Y., et al. (2007). What is new about the new literacies of online reading comprehension? In L. Rush, J. Eakle, & A. Berger, (Eds.). Secondary school literacy: What research reveals for classroom practices. (pp. 37-68). Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). Available online at

Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Available online at,2987,en_32252351_32235731_1_1_1_1_1,00.html