June 1, 2012

Enhanced e-books can deter learning in children, study says


New research from the Sesame Workshop’s Joan Ganz Cooney Center suggests that enhanced e-books negatively affect reading comprehension, according to this report at Digital Book World.

The report is the result of a study of 32 pairs of parents and children between the ages of three and six years old. The group was divided in half, with one half being given both print books and regular e-books, and the other half given print and enhanced e-books which had games and other interactive features.

Children’s reading comprehension between print books and regular e-books was about the same, according to the report. The real difference came with children who were read to from the enhanced e-readers. They remembered “significantly fewer narrative details than children who read the print version of the same story.” And, it was reported that, “both types of e-books, but especially the enhanced e-book, prompted more non-content related actions (e.g., behavior or device focused talk, pushing hands away) from children and parents than the print books.”

According to the report:

The study found that when enhanced e-books featured interactivity that wasn’t directly tied to the narrative or the text, it distracted both the children and parents from the story and thereby affected comprehension and retention.

“Just to get kids engaged with books, enhanced e-books have their place,” said Cynthia Chiong, the lead researcher on the study. “If they want their children to work on reading skills or vocabulary, they may want to choose an e-book or enhanced e-book that is more literary focused.”

Publishers of children’s enhanced e-books who are concerned about the educational value of their products should try to limit the different kinds of interactivity in a book and try to tie the interactivity as much to the words on the pages as possible, said Lori Takeuchi, director of research at the Center.

The Center’s full report on their research will be published at the end of the summer, yet they view their study into children’s e-reading as still evolving. “We realize this is just a snapshot in time,” Takeuchi says. “Everything is in transition right now. IPads have only been around for a few years and these things will definitely shift.”


Valerie Merians is the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.