Print books v. enhanced ebooks

The popularity of digital books is continuing to soar, and so continues the debate over which type is more enjoyable to read. Many new children's books are now being produced in not just two, but three different types: a printed book, an ebook and an enhanced ebook.

Enhanced ebooks are digital books with supplementary material and special embedded features such as video, sound and graphics. But do these additional features enhance the experience for the child reading the story, or do they take away from the joys of getting immersed in the words on a page, internalising the message and creating the scenes within our imagination? Do such books encourage children to pick them up, but have limited impact on developing their literacy skills as they experience each page?

Researchers at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center in New York studied 32 pairs of parents and their three to six-year-old children. Each family was given a print book and either a basic ebook or an enhanced ebook version of the same title. Results from the Print Books vs. Ebooks study, which was conducted in partnership with SciPlay at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, found very little to no difference between print books and ebooks, but that there was a significant difference in what the reader took away from reading a print book vs. its enhanced ebook counter-part.

The study found that families involved themselves in less conversational engagement when reading enhanced ebooks. When conversation engagement did take place it was often non-content related, and more about the practicalities of pressing buttons and how to use the features. Children were therefore gaining fewer benefits from co-reading than they were from print or regular ebooks.

The study also indicated that children recalled significantly fewer narrative details following reading an enhanced ebook, indicating that too much interactivity can hinder parent/child conversation and take focus away from the story content.

The study findings were released in 2011 following the revelation that Gruffalo author and children's laureate Julia Donaldson had vetoed an ebook edition of her bestselling picture book.

The researchers did however note that there was a place for enhanced ebooks in the market as a stepping stone to the wonders of literacy, for children who would not usually be interested in picking up a book. They also noted that their research focused on the impact on learning and comprehension, and that there are many other benefits of reading that were further enriched by reading enhanced ebooks, such as escapism, fun and exploring a classic tale.
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