Media Releases

Children with average and lower vocabularies reading e‑books learn more with an adult reader than pre-recorded voice

December 5, 2016

Toron­to, ON – A study by researchers at the Ontario Insti­tute for Stud­ies in Edu­ca­tion (OISE) at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to shows that four-year-olds with aver­age and low­er vocab­u­lary skills learn more effec­tive­ly with an adult read­ing an eBook to them ver­sus rely­ing sole­ly on the eBook’s voiceover.

Adult read­er ver­sus e‑book voiceover

In the study, four-year-olds either inter­act­ed with a dig­i­tal book on their own using the book’s voiceover, or an adult read them the same book. The book was teach­ing chil­dren about bio­log­i­cal cam­ou­flage.

Over­all, preschool­ers learned about cam­ou­flage from both books. But, when researchers divid­ed the four-year-olds into two groups – one group with chil­dren of high­er than aver­age vocab­u­lary lev­el, and one group of chil­dren with aver­age and low­er Eng­lish vocab­u­lar­ies – they found that the chil­dren with aver­age and low­er Eng­lish vocab­u­lar­ies showed poor­er com­pre­hen­sion when the book read itself.

Inter­ac­tion is key

Dr. Patri­cia Ganea, Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor of ear­ly cog­ni­tive devel­op­ment at the Dr. Eric Jack­man Insti­tute of Child Study at OISE, says the results high­light that young chil­dren are best sup­port­ed in their learn­ing when they are in inter­ac­tion with oth­ers, espe­cial­ly par­ents or oth­er care­givers.

“These find­ings are impor­tant since they show that chil­dren at risk for low com­pre­hen­sion ben­e­fit from hav­ing an adult read with them, rather than being left to learn from the dig­i­tal device on their own,” said Ganea. “Choos­ing high qual­i­ty apps is only part of the equa­tion. Read­ing along with the child can also increase learn­ing.”

Dr. Gabrielle Strouse, a post­doc­tor­al fel­low who worked with Ganea on the study, and who is now at the Uni­ver­si­ty of South Dako­ta, agreed.

“Chil­dren may learn from dig­i­tal media on their own, but par­ents still play an impor­tant role in children’s learn­ing. Par­ents can enhance what chil­dren take away from dig­i­tal media by ask­ing ques­tions, direct­ing their atten­tion to rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion and par­tic­i­pat­ing with them in the media inter­ac­tion,” Strouse added.

Children’s com­pre­hen­sion test­ed

The study was con­duct­ed by giv­ing chil­dren a pre-test about bio­log­i­cal cam­ou­flage using pic­tures of ani­mals. Chil­dren were then read an e‑book about cam­ou­flage by the e‑book voiceover or by an adult. After­ward, chil­dren were asked ques­tions about cam­ou­flage using repli­ca lizard and tur­tles in tanks. They were asked to iden­ti­fy which ani­mals would be seen by a preda­tor, which tank they would put an ani­mal in so it would not be seen, and to explain their choic­es.

Over­all, researchers found the e‑book to be an effec­tive tool for teach­ing chil­dren the new bio­log­i­cal con­cept:

  • Over­all, 74% of chil­dren explained their answers in terms of cam­ou­flage at the post-test, com­pared to 2% at pre-test
  • Chil­dren with above-aver­age vocab­u­lar­ies did well on the cam­ou­flage post-test regard­less of whether the adult or the book read to them.
  • How­ev­er, chil­dren with aver­age and low­er vocab­u­lar­ies did par­tic­u­lar­ly poor­ly when read to by the book’s voiceover

Also note­wor­thy, the find­ings are con­sis­tent with the empha­sis on par­ent co-use of media in the Amer­i­can Acad­e­my of Pedi­atrics’ new­ly updat­ed guide­lines on children’s media expo­sure.

The study, “Are Prompts Pro­vid­ed by Elec­tron­ic Books as Effec­tive for Teach­ing Preschool­ers a Bio­log­i­cal Con­cept as Those Pro­vid­ed by Adults?” was pub­lished in the November/December edi­tion of Ear­ly Edu­ca­tion and Devel­op­ment.

To view the study, please click here.

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Patri­cia Ganea
Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor, Dr. Eric Jack­man Insti­tute for Child Study
OISE/University of Toron­to
Phone: 416–934-4502

Gabrielle Strouse
Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor, Uni­ver­si­ty of South Dako­ta
Phone:  605–677-5848


The fol­low­ing par­ents have chil­dren who have par­tic­i­pat­ed in sim­i­lar stud­ies about tech­nol­o­gy and learn­ing. These par­ents are avail­able to speak with media about how their chil­dren expe­ri­ence com­put­ers, e‑books and oth­er forms of elec­tron­ic media:

Leigh Lahti
416–534-8506 or 416–389-2556 (cell)

Brook Alviano

Media Rela­tions Coor­di­na­tor
Lind­sey Craig
Com­mu­ni­ca­tions & Media Rela­tions Coor­di­na­tor
OISE/University of Toron­to