Reading Matters: New Study on Print vs. E-Books for Young Children
5.30.12 | The validity of e-books and their advantages over print have been heavily debated and discussed by parents and education experts alike; however, there has not been much research to support the use of one medium over another.
This week, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop added to the ongoing conversation with its release of a “quick study” comparing the effectiveness of three types of publications—print, basic e-books, and enhanced e-books—for comprehension and engagement.
The study, “Print Books vs. E-books” by Cynthia Chiong and Lori Takeuchi, has some good news and bad news for e-book proponents. Here’s the bad news: The study suggests that some features of “enhanced e-books,” or those that can support highly-interactive, multimedia experiences, can be distracting. Parents and children tend to point to pictures more often while reading enhanced e-books, and talk more about the features of the medium than the story itself.
These distractions may be one reason why enhanced e-book readers were slightly less able to recall narrative elements and details. Across all types of books, however, kids were able to recall the key points of the story.
That said, the study maintains that the “appeal” of reading, which enhanced e-books are delivering, is an “essential building block for early literacy development.” As such, enhanced e-books might encourage “less motivated” young readers who would otherwise want to avoid text altogether.
The study analyzed several other reading experiences and found no statistically significant differences among the three types of books.
The most notable weakness of the study—as the authors note—is the small, and unique, study sample. The research was conducted with only 32 families who were visitors to a museum, and who, as the study notes, were largely white and of middle or high socioeconomic status. Also, given the parents were visiting a museum on a weekend, they were likely more involved in their children’s academic progress than some other parents—all of which skews the sample and prevents the researchers from generalizing their findings to larger populations.
In other words, it says very little about whether e-readers can enhance reading experiences in homes of families where books aren’t a bedtime ritual, or for children who are not interested in museums and other literacy or academic-based settings.
The Joan Ganz Cooney Center plans to continue its research with a larger and more representative sample of participants and books in the future, which is promising. The need for more research, and less speculation, on e-books and their effectiveness is needed for parents and educators to make the best decisions when trying to improve children’s literacy and excite youth about reading.
In addition to conducting this study with a more varied and diverse sample of participants, the Center said it will conduct future research that will systematically examine how different types, combinations and placement of e-book features can help or hinder learning and conversation. The Center also wants future studies to explore how different demographics and populations use e-books.
Plus, for more on e-reading, see the Cooney Center’s Michael Levine on “No More Reading Wars! Getting Ahead of the Transition From Print to Digital Books” and The New America Foundation’s Lisa Guernsey on “Why E-Reading with Your Kid Can Impede Learning.”
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