Kids and Ebooks: The Future of Digital Learning

Feb 16, 2012

Kids make up a large portion of the ebook audience. Very often when a parent buys a new device--whether a tablet, smartphone, or ereader--the previous device gets turned over to the kids. As a result, the amount of electronic children's offerings available is growing, both revamped classics as well as new titles designed as ebooks from the start.

Let's face it, picture books are expensive, both to manufacture and to purchase. The price of illustrations, color pages, nice paper, shipping (most likely from China), all add up. Parents can save a lot of money with an ereader and, just maybe, it keeps their child's attention longer. And a happy, engaged child makes for a happy parent.

Children's books are at a pivotal point in their evolution. Interactivity has always been something to strive for, to keep children's interests going. Pop-up books and choose-your-own-adventure books are just two examples, but with the advent of digital ebooks, the interactive options are almost limitless. The reading experience can be personalized for each child. Characters can move, making it possible for kids to control what they're reading and watching.

Bright colors, flashing lights, and moving images aren't just for cartoons and video games. Now books can have the same effects, along with an interactivity that no paper book can compete with. Not to mention the tablets that can actually read the book aloud, no parent required. Books are not just books anymore, and the line between what is an ebook and what is interactive media is blurring.

But are kids and ereaders a good thing? There hasn't been enough time to do in-depth research on the effect of digital media on the early development of eyes and brains, but one group that is starting to research the effects of the digital age on children's learning. Years ago, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at the Sesame Workshop explored the possibilities of television as an educational tool. Now, the Center is looking at digital learning tools and the effects on education. Just as it predicted television in the classroom to aid in education, the Cooney Center's latest report (January 2012) iLearn II (an update to its 2007 study on apps in the Education category on iTunes) predicts the almost inevitable use of mobile devices as tools in the classroom of the not-too-distant future.

Two of the report's key findings show a distinct trend on the marketing of educational apps. First, while the number of adult educational apps is decreasing, the percentage of apps for children has risen in every age category. Secondly, toddlers and pre-schoolers are the most popular age category in Education (at 58%) and experienced the greatest growth over the past four years, a 23% increase.

Are we raising a generation destined to never know what it's like to gnaw on paper-over-board picture books? Will they need reading glasses by age 18?  And perhaps more importantly, how will it affect their developing imaginations?

For further reading, watching, and digital interacting: