A comprehensive meta-analysis of prior research has found that children aged 1-8 are less likely to understand picture books when they read the digital, versus print version. However, when digital picture books contain the right enhancements that reinforce the story content, they outperform their print counterparts. The results were published today in Review of Educational Research, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association.
Natalia Kucirkova, Professor of Reading and Children’s Development at The Open University and the University of Stavanger in Norway, together with Professor May Irene Furenes and Professor Adriana G. Bus from the University of Stavanger, analysed the results of 39 studies, carried out between 2010-2019, that included a total of 1,812 children from the ages of 1-8. The authors compared children’s story comprehension and vocabulary learning when they read a book on paper versus on screen, assessed the effects of story-related enhancements in digital books, and investigated the role of adult support.
Prof. Kucirkova commented:
“The wide availability of digital reading options and the rich tradition of children’s print books begs the question of which reading format is better suited for young readers’ learning.
“We found that when the print and digital versions of a book are practically the same and differ only in the voice-over or highlighted print as additional features in the digital book, then print outperforms digital.”
The authors found that the digital device itself and sometimes digital enhancements that are not aligned with the story content, such as a dictionary – interfere with children’s story comprehension.
When digital enhancements are designed to increase children’s ability to make sense of the narrative, for instance, by prompting children’s background knowledge to understand the story or providing additional explanations of story events – digital books not only outweigh the negative effects of the digital device but also outperform print books on children’s story comprehension.
Prof. Kucirkova continued:
“Our overall findings reflect the rather low quality of enhancements in the digital books available for young children. Many digitized versions of picture books are inferior to the print version, yet young children widely use them.
“If we want to support all children, we need to understand the impact of digital books and make them of higher quality. Digital books are low-cost to access and thus more readily available to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Furthermore, we can customize digital books to a child’s level of learning by including interactive features responsive to the child.
“Makers of children’s digital books need to be careful about the enhancements they make, and educators and parents need to choose carefully which digital books young children read. Internationally, it is important to promote the production of exemplary prototypes including text in a range of languages and provide incentives to publishers, authors, designers, and illustrators to change the status quo.”
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To read the full study, please visit: https://www.aera.net/Newsroom/A-Comparison-of-Childrens-Reading-on-Paper-Versus-Screen-A-Meta-Analysis