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The Effect of E-Books on Literacy

While electronic books, or e-books, have been in existence for years, the popularity of e-readers and tablets, as well as the growth of electronic publishing, has dramatically increased in recent years. Consequently, students have access to a greater variety of e-books than ever before. One topic of debate is whether e-books help or hinder literacy development.

E-books have several advantages for readers:

  • They are tailored to those who wish to read books online or downloaded to a computer or device.
  • They are readily available.
  • Many titles cost less than traditional bound books.
  • They have the potential to reach a segment of the population that reads less.
  • Time, money, storage and convenience may be favorable factors.

Are e-books actually a help or a hindrance to literacy development? Just as e-readers have advantages, they also have some disadvantages over traditional books. For instance:

  • Younger people and students may have higher comprehension rates from traditional books, some studies indicate.
  • Some new books are not published as e-books, so the availability is a consideration.
  • E-readers can be expensive, and the technology is not foolproof.

Impact of E-Books on Literacy

So what impact have e-books had on literacy? There is not a firm answer yet. As access to these devices and the internet has grown, the impact of e-books on literacy seems to be positive on many counts. Children in the United Kingdom have stated they are more likely to read on a screen. In a 2012 study, 52 percent of children stated they preferred reading an e-book versus only 32 percent preferring print. That e-book titles now outsell traditional paperbacks reflects the changing preferences.

One Swedish study concludes that e-books tend to hinder concentration and comprehension while paperback or hardback versions of books tend to enhance these skills. Other studies indicate that students who read below grade level may have an easier time reading e-books. There appears to be a socioeconomic component as well. Almost 70 percent of students who are eligible for free school meals read e-books and only 54.8 percent read traditional bound books outside of school.

E-books seem to promote literacy development among certain school-age children and adults. The technological aspect of reading digital texts by way of an e-reader appeals to a growing segment of the population. While there isn’t conclusive evidence on the efficacy of e-books, studies indicate that today’s children are turning to them more and more.

Learn more about the UTA online M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction — Literacy Studies program.


Education Week: Researchers Voice Concern Over E-Books’ Effect on Reading Comprehension

National Literacy Trust: The Impact of E-Books on the Reading Motivation and Reading Skills of Children and Young People

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