There is large interest in the literature on digital books and their effect on children’s reading skills. A recent meta-analysis clarifies the impact of medium (paper vs. screen) on reading comprehension and vocabulary.
To be included in the meta-analysis, studies had to use experimental or quasi-experimental designs; compare reading a narrative in both digital and print formats in school, home, or lab settings; and include students 1-8 years old. Thirty-nine studies were included in the review. In five studies, digital books contained the same content as paper books, while the other studies’ digital books included additional features: Thirteen digital books were supplemented with a dictionary, and eighteen digital books included story-related enhancements, such as digital story-telling.
The results showed a positive impact of digital books compared to paper books on vocabulary (ES = +0.20) but not on story comprehension (ES = -0.07). Characteristics of settings and books were found to be relevant for the effectiveness of digital books or paper books:
- When the studies took place in a school setting, digital books were less effective than paper books on story comprehension measures (ES = -0.28).
- Digital books with story-related enhancements (and no dictionary) were more effective than paper books on story comprehension (ES = +0.17). Digital books supplied with a dictionary showed positive impacts on vocabulary measures (ES = +0.49).
- When reading with a paper book was supported by an adult, paper books outperformed digital books in story comprehension (ES = -0.22). However, when both the conditions received adult support and digital books included story-related enhancements, digital books showed positive effects (ES = +0.20).
The authors concluded that digital books outperformed paper books when they included enhancements related to the story. Furthermore, a dictionary in digital books helped children with word acquisition but not in meaning-making. The practical recommendation for parents and teachers is to pay attention to the design of digital books and select the ones with content-related enhancements.
Source (Open Access): Furenes, M. I., Kucirkova, N., & Bus, A. G. (2021). A Comparison of Children’s Reading on Paper Versus Screen: A Meta-Analysis. Review of Educational Research. https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654321998074