Are e-books as effective as print books for children’s reading levels?

The evolution of online reading has expanded literacy access and availability of electronic books and digital print materials. The National Literacy Trust conducted a survey in 2012 that measured primary and secondary age students’ accessibility, attitudes, and reading trend habits in relation to e-books and other forms of electronic reading materials. The study found that the overwhelming majority of respondents (97%) indicated that access to e-books was available at home, in school, or both. In addition, 52.3% of children stated their preference to reading on-screen as opposed to just 32% who indicated a preference for print books. But are e-books as effective as print books for children’s literacy levels?
Research has shown that while young students are likely to find electronic reading more engaging, retainment and comprehension is negatively impacted when reading from a non-print device. Recent narrative has suggested that “…the e-book presence hinders recall of assimilated information whilst the presence of the paper support tends to facilitate it.” (Wastlund et. al 2004). There may be a few reasons for this, including sensory engagement of touch on printed books. In other words, when children flip pages, the physical evidence of building page upon page may facilitate chronological organization in the learning process.
A different study (Mangen 2013) measuring the empathetic and emotional engagements and responses of tenth-grade students reading from printed materials versus electronic books found that paper readers reported higher on measures having to do with empathy, transportation and immersion, and narrative coherence, than e-book readers. Additionally, these same participants were tracked throughout the academic year and achieved higher reading comprehension scores overall on routine exams than their e-book reading counterparts.
While children who predominantly use e-readers do not generally perform more poorly at school, this study supports existing research on the efficacy of print books and the sensory support they provide in the learning experience. United Way UK believes that print books are important--our Reading Oasis programme provides schools in need with thousands of new print books to enable children to learn to love reading both at school and at home! For more information and to support a school local to you, please visit