Most e-books harm children learning to read

Last week my post was about the benefits of Ebooks for boys. This week, I have excerpts from an article published by the same newspaper (The Telegraph) several years later (March 9, 2021), but this one focuses on the impediments that Ebooks place in the development of children’s reading skills.

Youngsters who listen to podcasts are more likely to enjoy reading and more likely to read every day compared to their peers

This more recent article is written by Dominic Penna, who is a journalist with The Telegraph. He says, “Most ebooks actually harm children in their efforts to learn to read because the added use of technology can be distracting, research has found.

In a comprehensive review of 39 different studies, researchers found that children aged one to eight-years-old were less likely to understand picture books when they read the digital version compared to the print.

This is because some digital books included games at the end of chapters and other resources which diverted attention from the story itself, which had a negative effect on learning in younger children in particular.

Overall, print books outperformed their technological alternatives by an average of seven per cent when children were assessed on their comprehension of what they had read, according to the research from the University of Stavanger in Norway.

‘In particular, the presence of short games embedded in story apps may explain children’s poor comprehension of digital books, as these distract young children’s attention from the story,’ the authors wrote.

They added: ‘Given that the human information processing system has a limited capacity, distributing cognitive resources across the story narrative, handling the device, and children’s expectations concerning an electronic device may be the reason for the reported negative effects.’

Professor Natalia Kucirkova, the co-author of the study and a professor at the Open University, said that added online tools such as dictionaries interfere with how well children can understand the story or text that they are trying to read.

However this was not the case for books which provided important context to their stories, which boosted comprehension more than their paperback counterparts.

Three of the studies that were featured in the analysis also found that reading on screens strongly correlates with lower reading ability levels across primary and secondary school children alike, something which continues into adulthood.

But while dictionaries embedded in digital books were often found to adversely affect children’s understanding of particular stories, they were cited as among the key reasons that digital reading improves their language skills.

In fact, the vocabulary of children who read ebooks improved by an average of 22 per cent when compared to printed texts across the studies analysed.

The findings come as children were increasingly forced to turn to ebooks as school libraries shut due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Reading among children had reached a 15-year low before the first coronavirus lockdown last year, but has since increased by more than eight per cent, with one in three young people saying they read more books between March and June last year.

Irene Picton, Research Manager at the National Literacy Trust, said: ‘We know many families enjoy sharing both print and digital books, and that both formats can support literacy,’ said ‘The findings of this fascinating meta-analysis highlight the importance of careful, evidence-led design of digital books to ensure children’s reading is supported most effectively.

‘It also provides valuable insight for educators and parents by identifying which digital enhancements do, and do not, support comprehension and vocabulary.’

Children and young people who have enjoyed podcasts during the pandemic are more likely to enjoy reading and read every day compared to their peers, the Trust claimed last year.”

My reaction is that the choice of eBook versus printed version will depend on the preference of the child and the characteristics of the book. Neither, in my opinion, has an inherent advantage.

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