March 9 (UPI) -- Children ages 1 to 8 are less likely to understand picture books when they read them in digital formats as opposed to print, an analysis published Tuesday by the Review of Educational Research found.
This is because digital features can hinder a child's ability to understand the story they are reading as they may distract their attention from the story content, said researchers in Norway and Britain.
However, when digital picture books contain certain enhancements designed to reinforce story content, they outperform their print counterparts, the researchers said.
For example, digital books are more effective than print books for enhancing children's vocabulary if they use a dictionary that defines infrequently used words and expressions.
"The wide availability of digital reading options and the rich tradition of children's print books beg the question of which reading format is better suited for young readers' learning," analysis co-author Natalia Kucirkova said in a press release.
"We found that when the print and digital versions of a book are practically the same and differ only in the voice-over or highlighted print as additional features in the digital book, then print outperforms digital," said Kucirkova, a professor of early childhood development at the University of Stavanger in Norway.
For this research, she and her colleagues analyzed the results of 39 studies, most conducted between 2010 and 2019 and included a total of 1,812 children ages 1 to 8 years.
They compared children's story comprehension and vocabulary learning when they read a book on paper versus on a screen, and assessed the effects of story-related enhancements in digital books, the presence of a dictionary and the role of adults who read with their children.
Most commercially published digital books included in the studies did not include the storytelling techniques that adults provide during book sharing, such as attracting children's attention to the main story elements and focusing their attention on the chain of story events.
In addition, digital devices themselves, and sometimes digital enhancements to books, are not always aligned with the story content and may interfere with children's story comprehension, the researchers said.
When digital enhancements are designed to increase children's ability to make sense of the narrative -- for example, by prompting children's background knowledge to understand the story or providing additional explanations of story events -- digital books not only outweigh the negative effects of the digital device.
Additionally, they can potentially outperform print books on children's story comprehension, they said.
"Digital books are low-cost to access and thus more readily available to students from disadvantaged backgrounds," Kucirkova said.
However, "if we want to support all children, we need to understand the impact of digital books and make them of higher quality," she said.