e-Book Features May Slow Preschool Learning

New research suggests reading e-books enhanced with sound, animation, and games not related to story content may reduce learning in young children.

University of California, Irvine researchers discovered the additional features were distracting to children between the ages of three and five.

“With the widespread adoption of tablets, youngsters’ use of e-books continues to increase,” said lead investigator Stephanie Reich, UCI associate professor of education.

“Preschoolers can learn equally well — and sometimes more — from appropriately designed e-books as from printed books, but enhanced e-books often contain features that are more distracting than educational, so careful selection is vital.”

Reich, along with Ph.D. student Joanna Chung-Yun Yau and professor of education and informatics Mark Warschauer, conducted a systematic review of comparative print/e-book studies with children five and younger.

Their results appear in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.

The team found that a child’s comprehension can be facilitated when e-book information is presented through visual and auditory modes related to the narration. For example, suspenseful music may play when the Big Bad Wolf approaches, or alphabet books may make the letter sound when one is tapped.

Surprisingly, researchers also discovered features that serve only a decorative function — such as the audio simulation of trees moving in the wind — can cause cognitive overload, impeding story comprehension.

Regardless of a book’s format — digital or print — youngsters learn more from in-person, shared reading experiences, as discussions of the story, text, and characters enhance language development and literacy.

However, the researchers noted that during e-book reading, the adult and child most often talked about the platform, while print book conversations were most frequently about the story.

“The pace of e-reading studies hasn’t kept up with the speed of e-book creation,” Reich said.

“More research on the effectiveness of digital books compared to traditional print books for children’s learning is needed so that parents and educators can be critical consumers of these technologies.”

Source: University of California, Irvine