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Are enhanced e-books bad for kids’ reading skills?

New research from the Sesame Workshop’s Joan Ganz Cooney Center suggests that enhanced e-books’ special features can be distracting both to young kids and to their parents reading the books with them.

In its latest “quick report” (PDF), the Cooney Center studied 32 child-parent pairs. The kids were all between 3 and 6 years old. Half the pairs read a print book and a regular e-book and the other half read a print book and an enhanced e-book (defined as an e-book with “enhanced multimedia experiences” like games and other interactive features, and the focus of reading apps like Scholastic’s Storia and Ruckus Reader).

Kids who read enhanced e-books remembered “significantly fewer narrative details than children who read the print version of the same story.”

And “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.” This will be familiar to anyone who has ever used an iPad (s AAPL) with a kid (or adult) and pointed out a cool iPad-related feature.

The Cooney Center recommends that “parents and preschool teachers should choose print or basic e-books to read with children if they want to prioritize literacy-building experiences over ones intended ‘just for fun,'” and says enhanced e-book designers should “exercise caution when adding features to enhanced e-books, especially when those features do not directly relate to the story.”

It also notes that enhanced e-books can be a good tool to “prompt less motivated young readers toward engagement when they might otherwise avoid text altogether.”

via Digital Book World

9 Responses to “Are enhanced e-books bad for kids’ reading skills?”

  1. Chooks

    Like everyhing in life it’s about balance. There are wonderful eBooks and poor ones. I agree that excessive interactivity is distracting and even annoying if the parent is doing the reading.
    However anything that gets a reluctant reader to want to spend time reading is a win.

  2. I understand that it is necessary to follow the development of technology and I also follow the technology, but if we talk about books, I still swear on the printed book, especially some great fiction books. The feeling is much better than reading electronic books.

  3. If we lived in a world where there was nothing but interactive digital media interfaces along with gizmos aplenty and some clear thinking soul invented a thing called a ‘book’ it would be hailed as no less than a miracle. They would sweep the world!

    Books are a simple low-tech low-cost enduring items that only need light to function. They are the most simple link between the thoughts of one to the mind of another functional almost regardless of circumstance. Everything that comes between this most pure exchange is unnecessary distraction. Even the spoken voice offerer inflection that embellishes beyond and away from that gleaned individually with the written original.

    Plus the skill of reading is an important mental exercise that enhances the minds strength and agility; as does learning to read music or play chess, for example.

    In the way of tools to promote learning there can be more than just printed paper books of cause. A teacher is an interactive training device. A blackboard a useful medium. Teaching any subject, including reading skills, with just printed books would be bound to produce a lower yield than via a raft of different approaches all to help to capture the learning styles, imagination and attention of pupils.

  4. I strongly applaud this analysis in its goals. The trouble is when you use statistics from a study of 32. Realistically, the results tell you nothing you can rely on at all. Please repeat this study so that we can draw real conclusions…it is too important to lose due to poor research approach.

  5. I have read the report attached.
    I do agree about “reading skills”.
    Interactive e-books are worse than printed books. But only in this particular matter.

    Imho, interactive e-book is not a tool to enhance reading skills!
    You do not need to conduct research to be able to figure it out.

    Interactive e-book is designed to speed up the comprehension of the particular topic. It is like good presentation.
    You can give 100 pages of printed user manual or you can have 10 interactive slides, giving the same amount of useful info.
    Reading of 100 pages will enhance your reading skills for sure. :)

    Although, this report does not contain information about time consumed by e-book reading vs. printed copy, I do believe, printed book had lost time competition.
    Next time, researchers should pay attention to “time to get the critical element of story” as well.

    Other parameters make e-books very promising teaching tool. But for the actual content, not “reading” itself as “combining chars to words, words to sentences and understand it’s meaning”.
    Reports says:
    1) Measured Engagement level is much higher with interactive e-books, than with printed versions.
    2) Kids were able to explain critical element of the story for both interactive e-book and printed book.

    Outcome: do not use e-books instead printed ones to teach reading. Use them to comprehend a lot more information during the same time. :)
    Don’t be afraid of new technology. :)
    And always try yourself the content you give to your kids for education. :)

  6. Laurence Cocco

    I would be very interested in seeing this research repeated for older children and young adults, right up through college. Maybe there is an age at which cognitive abilities have grown to the point where accessing the imbedded interactive features do not cause the reader to lose the details of the narrative story line. If the study results for 3 – 6 year olds are repeated for older ages, we have a significant problem, especially since the federal government and others are pushing for the rapid adoption of e-books for education within the next five years.

  7. MobileGeorge

    In our house, we found LeapFrog’s Tag book learning system to work the best. It uses physical books but with a pen/stylus (that actually contains a minature camera) to provide an interactive experience. Children can touch the pen on words to be read to them. I actually prefer these physical books to the e-books that we’ve tried on the iPad.