Electronic story books

12 Sep 2012

The use of ICT as a teaching tool in the early years of schooling receives some research attention in relation to learning to read, states Gerry White in DERN.


Children who are motivated to read and have the opportunity to receive immediate feedback for their beginning efforts, very often become proficient readers. However, students who are not motivated to read can experience both learning and behavioural difficulties as they progress through schooling.

A recent research article that reports on a qualitative study of the motivation of year 1 students who use eBooks to learn to read, over a nine month period, provides some fascinating findings. The article, Reading in the Digital Age: Using electronic Books as a Teaching Tool for Beginning Readers published in the open journal Canadian Journal of Learning Technology highlights a number of benefits of eBook storytelling especially for struggling students.

The study begins with a thorough and comprehensive review of the literature about beginning readers and has a strong theoretical framework on which to base the investigation of eBook experiences. The literature review establishes clearly that ‘student self-concepts develop in response to their early experiences with reading – whether these are perceived as being pleasant and successful, or uncomfortable and difficult’ (p. 4). In an age where technology is often used by beginning readers, there is the potential that ICT can be harnessed as a benefit to reading acquisition.

Electronic devices such as eBooks can enable repetition, reading aloud and student choices on the progression through a story. Reading in the Digital Age: Using electronic Books as a Teaching Tool for Beginning Readers noted that students who chose their stories often were more engaged and performed more consistently. This is not to suggest that parental reading of printed texts such as ‘big books’ and other picture based learning-to-read books are not valuable but that eBooks may be a useful supplement.

‘Reading is such an effortful activity, [and] motivation is a factor in whether children choose to devote their energy to such a task’ (p. 2), states the report. Successful reading is a significant benefit for students as education progresses and ‘motivated readers read more, have larger vocabularies, use more complex cognitive strategies, and thus become better readers’ (p. 2). However, a major concern for educators is that there would appear to be a steady decline in leisure reading as students’ age. The study attempts to address this issue by focussing on motivation to read and the students’ experiences with eBooks for storytelling.

The study is fascinating because what it reveals is that students who use task avoidance techniques for reading with printed texts, develop positive responses and become motivated readers when they use eBooks. Further, the immediate feedback from eBooks for beginning readers allows them to correct their errors in order to be rewarded with positive results for reading correctly. ‘The rapidity of feedback was one of the program’s strongest advantages’ (p. 18). The use of audio and video also would appear to aid student motivation and attention to task as well as enjoyment of the activity.

Reading in the Digital Age: Using electronic Books as a Teaching Tool for Beginning Readers by no means provides conclusive evidence but it does reveal some deep insights into the use of eBooks by beginning readers, especially in relation to motivation to read and engagement in reading activities. The study has been reported in sufficient detail to be replicated in different contexts which may be warranted for this important aspect of learning.


Gerry White is Principal Research Fellow: Teaching & Learning using Digital Technologies, Australian Council for Educational Research

This article was first published on the Digital Education Research Network (DERN)

Read the full article on DERN

Image: Flickr / Mike Licht, Notions Capital


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