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The impact of multi-sensory experiences on reading storybooks and e-books

By Christina Tausch, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Digital Media Partnership

We are very interested in finding out if the use of digital media changes reading and reading interactions between caregivers and children when compared to reading traditional storybooks. As we recounted in a previous blog post, survey data reveals conflicted views by parents on the use of digital media with their children. Parents prefer traditional storybooks most of the time but will allow their children to use ebooks in specific contexts such as when commuting (Takeuchi & Vaala, 2012). The child’s perspective has been less well explored in research however. How do children experience ebooks in comparison to traditional paper books?  Children are sensory-motor learners and it is clear that they will receive very different kinds of sensory-motor feedback when turning the pages of traditional storybooks in comparison to swiping the virtual pages of e-books (Mangen, 2008).  What do we know?

In printed storybooks, the content of the story cannot be separated from the material (Morineau, Blanche, Tobin & Guenguen, 2005).  What are the implications? Children can touch the book and every single page, feel its weight, its texture and perceive the thickness of a book. Thus, children begin to understand the concept of where a book begins and ends. They experience flipping through pages of different books and explore page numbers. This direct sensory-motor experience leads to the creation of a mental map of the entire text and has a direct impact on children’s reading comprehension, according to Mangen et al., 2013. The text and the smooth glass cover of an e-reader or iPad cannot be perceived as a tangible unit, so that the book content is detached from its material. This spatial orientation is not provided in ebooks, but other motivational and built-in features may facilitate reading comprehension as effectively although in different ways.  For example, in some ebooks, story content can be changed with a mouse click to provide the child with direct experience with narrative structure and problem solving. Hotspots are a common tool to aid vocabulary learning. Interactive features to support story comprehension are becoming increasingly innovative entertaining and entertaining and entertaining.  There is a concern however that clicking on hot spots or scrawling down a page in ebooks might lead to very different text comprehension and caregiver-child interactions, especially if the attention is too focused on the device and its features instead of the story content (Chiong, Ree, Takeuchi, & Erickson, 2012; Parish-Morris & Collins, 2006; Mangen, 2008).

Another way in which the interactive features of ebooks change the caregiver-child interaction is related to their ease of use, even for children as young as two. In his exploratory study Geist (2012) observed that very young children can master digital tablet applications because the sensory motor interface is intuitive and provides few cognitive barriers.  According to the Sesame Workshop: Best Practice Report, 2012 actions such as tapping, drawing and moving their fingers, swiping, dragging and sliding are mastered by toddlers in a very natural way without assistance. Certain gestures are less intuitive (e.g., multi-touch actions such as pinching, tilting/shaking, flicking/flinging). Although the adult might need to step in and help the child when these movements are required, toddlers can use a large number of books, games and apps without much parental assistance. Therefore it is legitimate to ask whether this technology will reduce the frequency of meaningful caregiver-child interactions. It is well known that language development is most strongly impacted by the amount and quality the language input the child receives from adults in the context of “helpful interactions” (Weizman & Snow, 2001). Will the use of these devices reduce the child’s access to this kind of input?

What are your experiences – do you feel that you interact differently with your child when you read e-books as compared to standard paper books? How do you feel these differences in sensory-motor experience impact on your child’s learning?