Preschool children’s story comprehension lays the foundation for and can be an early indicator of their later literacy skills and complex language development. In this study, researchers compared preschool students’ story comprehension of print versus digital storybooks. Past research suggests that the dynamic visuals of digital storybooks may facilitate student’s mental imagery, but other studies warn that excessive design elements can distract from comprehension. To better understand the impacts of print and digital storybooks on learning outcomes, this study measured students’ explicit and implicit story comprehension in each mode. Explicit story comprehension refers to children’s ability to recall and repeat facts about the story, while implicit story comprehension involves inferring characters’ inner states and feelings.

72 five-year-olds from public preschools in Turkey were divided into two groups based on the results of a pre-test that measured their story comprehension levels. Each comprehension level was equally distributed across the groups. The experimental group listened to a digital rendering of two stories on an iPad, while the comparison group heard the same stories read from a print copy by the researcher. For both groups, the researchers read the books to four students at a time. After hearing each book, students retold the story to the researcher and answered comprehension questions.

The digital storybook group displayed stronger explicit and implicit story comprehension skills than the print group. Digital storybooks listeners exhibited significantly more factual comprehension and slightly greater inference and perspective-taking skills than their print group peers, although this latter difference was less marked. The researchers noticed that the animated illustrations, background sounds, and music in the digital books offered students a greater wealth of non-verbal information that they drew on in their retellings of the stories.

This study suggests the promise of digital storybooks for early childhood education. The researchers hope that the dynamic expressions and gestures in multimedia narratives can give young readers insight into characters’ thoughts and feelings, thus promoting implicit as well as explicit story comprehension.

Altun, D. (2018). the efficacy of multimedia stories in preschoolers' explicit and implicit story comprehension. Early Childhood Education Journal 46(6), 629-642.

Image: by Cate Storymoon via Flickr