Whether it’s smartphones, tablets, wearable devices or even virtual reality (VR), there can be no doubt that connected technologies are infiltrating everyday life — and the education sector is no different. Schools are using technology to revolutionize the way children learn both inside and outside the classroom.
This transformation includes how school children are developing their reading skills. While reading on paper has been the traditional method, the rise of digital devices means more children are engaging electronically with the written word.
The trend is clear, but debate continues among those involved in the sector, as well as many parents, about the pros and cons of textbooks versus devices such as e-readers.
What the research says
While more research needs to be done in the area, one widely cited Norwegian study found that people tend to absorb less information when reading on an e-reader versus printed paper.
In that trial, 50 volunteers were asked to read a short story then answer questions about it. The e-reader users scored lower on the parts of the quiz that tested how well they absorbed story points. However, only two of the volunteer readers who took part in the study were used to reading on an e-reader, which may have affected the results.
Other potential downsides of e-readers include the effect of screen luminescence on fatigue levels, and links to itching and tired eyes in young people, according to experts.
But there is also support for e-readers among scholars. For instance, one US study found the majority of 10th grade students polled preferred e-readers. This preference was especially strong among boys and those who weren’t generally inclined to reading, while avid readers preferred print.
Benefits of e-readers vs textbooks
The popularity of e-readers among students, schools and colleges is, in many ways, unsurprising given their numerous pluses.
This includes portability. In the past, schoolchildren were weighed down by heavy textbooks; e-readers are small, lightweight and can fit easily into schoolbags. In fact, there’s evidence that carrying excessively heavy schoolbags can cause back pain and other problems.
Cost is another advantage. Instead of having to spend hundreds and, in the case of university students, thousands of dollars on textbooks, ebooks can be downloaded to e-readers at lower cost.
There are also particular upsides for young children. These include accessibility features on e-readers that enable changes to font size, dictionary functions and text-to-voice capabilities. Beyond these, they’re better able to accommodate different learning styles and their interactive features (like dictionaries and notations) are significant advantages for a teaching device.
In addition, e-readers have the edge on text choice. Commonly, this wider variety of texts also includes forms popular with young people, like comics and graphic novels, as well as textbooks.
Taking a mixed approach
One way forward may be to combine traditional print reading with emerging e-reader technology to get the best of both worlds.
Often, children who can craft their own content become successful readers and writers. So, one approach could be for children to publish their own writing in print form, then allow them to transfer it to an e-reader.