Liquid Mode delivers better digital reading experiences for all students

Liquid Mode with students on electronic devices in the background.

Reading is integral to learning, and over the past 30 years, technology has dramatically changed how students read. With Liquid Mode in the Adobe Acrobat Reader mobile app, it’s easier to read digital documents on mobile devices. Liquid Mode uses AI to reformat PDF documents while also giving readers the power to adjust font size and space to create a custom reading environment.

Alongside researchers at University of Central Florida (UCF), the nonprofit Readability Matters, and Google, Adobe recently launched The Readability Consortium to explore technologies, tests, and tools that will help individuals maximize readability. By helping students discover their best readability settings, the Consortium aims to make reading a more enjoyable experience for students, improving comprehension and learning.

Today we would like to introduce a few pilot programs and research from the education world that demonstrate some of the potential benefits of using Liquid Mode to improve readability.

Making a 200-page manual easier to read

Maryland’s Frederick Community College (FCC) provides a diverse range of affordable and flexible learning opportunities to all types of students. Many adult learners benefit from FCC’s Bridge to Careers courses, which combine occupational training and workplace readiness skills with English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses to help students thrive in new careers. Students in these courses come from diverse backgrounds. Some are new immigrants while others have been in the United States for a decade or more. The learners’ communicative abilities across the four language domains — speaking, listening, reading, and writing — varies.

Course instructors sometimes struggle to bridge the diverse reading levels within the classroom to engage all students with critical texts. When designing the curriculum for Bridge to Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), a course for students aiming to become commercial drivers, ESOL instructor Rachel Riggs thought that Liquid Mode might be a good way to make complex texts more accessible to the adult students.

“I had heard about Liquid Mode through the EdTech Center at World Education, and it seemed like an interesting fit to pilot in the Bridge to CDL course,” says Riggs. “The commercial driver’s license manual is a 200-page-long PDF document. Liquid Mode reformats the manual to display much more naturally on small smartphone screens, allowing students to study on the go.”

With Liquid Mode, students no longer need to spend time pinching and zooming on their phones and scrolling around the document. Instead, all of the text flows smoothly. Students can easily change font size or adjust spacing, making the document even easier to read with clear and crisp letters. Intelligent outlines and search functionality helps students to find relevant sections much faster.

One student described how she would study the manual on her phone while her husband drove, taking advantage of every spare minute in her busy day to advance her education. Another commented that using Liquid Mode allowed him to jump directly to the section the instructor had assigned, making reading on their phone more accessible and less time consuming.

Now a part of World Education as a digital learning specialist, Riggs is excited to promote Liquid Mode, particularly for the diverse population of adult learners. “Programs that work with a lot of PDF documents will likely find Liquid Mode to be very useful,” says Riggs. “In adult education, we see a large range of skills with culturally, linguistically, and academically diverse learners in particular. I’m very interested to connect Adobe with more educators to see how technology can help address accessibility and equity for adult learners and educators.”

Exploring personal reading settings for ESL students

Jolee Mosher works with learners from around the world for her Academic Speaking and Listening class at St. Paul Public Schools. The course focuses on self-exploration and making connections for high-level learners who speak English as a second or third language. Rather than use a textbook, Mosher distributes PDF readings, making the course an ideal pilot for Liquid Mode.

Students responded positively to Liquid Mode, explaining that it made readings more accessible. Being able to manipulate not just the font size, but also spacing between words or lines, made it easier for students to understand the text. And as students did not speak English as a first language, anything that benefited comprehension was appreciated.

Bolat Shaimerfenov, a student in Mosher’s class, praised Liquid Mode for making it easier to facilitate reading for students like himself who have impaired vision. Another student described how the ability to adjust the font reduced mental load when reading, while a third student said that they were excited to use it beyond the classroom.

Student Mohit Kumar used tests from the Virtual Readability Lab (VRL) to find his best reading settings in Liquid Mode. He explains, “I read up to three hours a week on my phone. Liquid Mode encouraged me to read more because I didn’t have to struggle. Instead of zoom in, zoom out, scroll around, I would just apply my reading settings and go.”

Mosher plans to continue using Liquid Mode for future classes, but with an extra emphasis on helping students understand how to find their personal reading settings.

“When we help students with readability, we encourage them to be more engaged, which helps them on their learning journey,” says Mosher. “I want to help students understand how they can personalize their reading experience and make reading easier and more accessible on their phones.”

Exploring readability at the university level

Dr. Shelley Rodrigo at the University of Arizona is one of many researchers helping to formalize the study of readability. University students are ideal test subjects, as they typically do a great deal of reading, no matter what their field.

In a recent study, Dr. Rodrigo asked graduate students to take the VRL tests and apply the results to reading with Liquid Mode. Many students reacted positively to Liquid Mode, with one student mentioning that once they changed the font or spacing on their digital materials, it made a difference in reducing eye strain when reading digitally.

While Dr. Rodrigo is still in the process of analyzing data, initial results show statistically significant data indicating a reverse correlation between cognitive load and feelings of productivity. In other words, when Liquid Mode makes reading easier, students feel much more successful.

“Many students were surprised at how adjusting readability settings impacted their experience,” says Dr. Rodrigo. “Students typically understand that font size can make a difference, but there were many students who were amazed to see how adjusting the spacing made reading even easier, allowing them to read for longer periods at a time.”

Learn more about the importance of The Readability Consortium and Adobe’s readability initiative.