Print vs. Digital Books: Does the “Video Deficit” Apply to Preschool-Age Children?


boy using Waterford on desktop computerFrom tablets and televisions to cell phones and computers, children are growing up in a digital age where much of what they learn comes from digitized stories and video.

Many digital learning resources are proven to help children increase their vocabulary and comprehension, but questions persist about how well children learn from digital storybooks when compared to print.

Print vs. Digital storybooks

A study by the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development released earlier this year suggests the content of the book—not its form—matters more for how well preschool-age children understand a story. Both print and digital storybooks improved comprehension and vocabulary in young readers, according to its findings.

Researchers recruited 38 preschool children (3 to 4 years old) to listen to four different storybooks: two digital and two print storybooks. After the children listened and watched each story, they were asked questions to understand their level of comprehension. Results found that they equally comprehended the stories through digital and print.

Susan B. Neuman, professor of childhood and literacy education at NYU and coauthor of the study explained, “Although nothing can replace the interactivity that comes from a live read aloud experience between an adult and child, there are certain features in video that might enhance word learning, especially for children with limited vocabulary.

The study suggests that ”the “video deficit”—a learning difference demonstrated in numerous studies of very young children that shows they learn better through interactions with a live person than with video presentations—may no longer be an issue to comprehension for children by the preschool years.

“It’s possible that when it comes to books, we have overestimated the means of delivery and have underestimated the importance of the content conveyed in the media. Although certainly not a substitute for parent-child interactive reading, digital stories from quality media sources may represent an important source of learning for young children,” Neuman said.

Integrating digital media into classroom learning

So, how do you define quality media sources? The joint position statement issued by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media offers some great ideas to help young children create and learn through digital media.

  1. Let children use touch screens with appropriate interactive media experiences to help them feel empowered in their learning.
  2. Use video or audio to record children’s stories, drawings or play and keep track of their progress.
  3. Showcase children’s accomplishments on a classroom website or a digital projector in the classroom.
  4. Let children learn how to use mouse and keyboard computers to look up answers or access learning videos.
  5. Help children create their own digital stories with photos of children’s play and use audio to let each child be the narrator of their digital story.
  6. Include technology that assists children with special needs or developmental delays.
  7. Use video conferencing for families and children to communicate.
  8. Allow children to explore how technology works through play experiences.

As young children enjoy learning through a variety of mediums, digital media can enhance their educational experiences to help them develop greater comprehension and vocabulary skills as well as retain complex concepts.


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