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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response


April 2021


What research is available on the impact of audiobooks on early literacy development in prekindergarten–grade 3?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports, descriptive studies, and literature reviews on the impact of audiobooks on early literacy development in prekindergarten–grade 3. For details on the databases and sources, key words, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

Best, E. (2020). Audiobooks and literacy: A rapid review of the literature. National Literacy Trust.

From the ERIC abstract: “Audiobook listenership is growing with the increasing availability of devices, platforms and apps offering an ever-wider range of high quality titles. This literature review provides an overview of research exploring the role of audiobooks in supporting children’s literacy both at home and in the classroom. It focuses on how positive engagement with audiobooks can develop reading skills such as decoding and comprehension, while supporting reading enjoyment, wellbeing and emotional intelligence. It also examines the impact of specific practices such as Reading While Listening (RWL), classroom studies on the efficacy of audiobooks and the role of features such as accessibility and convenience of audiobooks in supporting literacy engagement. The review find that while studies to date focus on listening in relation to reading, more research is needed on the intrinsic benefits of listening and listening for enjoyment.”

Best, E., Clark, C., & Picton, I. (2020). Children, young people and audiobooks before and during lockdown. National Literacy Trust.

From the ERIC abstract: “Audiobooks have become increasingly popular in the digital age: streaming and subscription services, such as Audible and Spotify, have made audio stories available to a wide commercial audience, while apps like Libby and BorrowBox facilitate ‘borrowing’ of audiobooks from library services. With access easier and more widespread than ever, it is important to consider the potential benefits that audiobooks can offer to children and young people. In February 2020 the authors published a literature review on current research around literacy and audiobooks. Findings included evidence that audiobooks can: (1) Improve children and young people’s reading skills and enjoyment of reading; (2) Support children and young people’s emotional intelligence and wellbeing; (3) Improve children and young people’s reading comprehension; and (4) Widen children and young people’s access to books. Alongside this, the authors were commissioned by the Publishers Association to explore the use of audiobooks and their link to wider literacy engagement from the point of view of children and young people. The UK went into lockdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March, which meant that schools closed for all but children of key workers and those deemed most vulnerable. However, given the suddenly changed environment the world was in, the authors were also keen to capture any possible changes to children and young people’s literacy practices as a result of lockdown. This report shows: (1) wider engagement with audiobooks during lockdown; (2) the impact on reading and writing behaviours; (3) that listening to audiobooks supports children and young people’s mental wellbeing; and (4) the correlation between audiobooks, boys and teenagers.”

Boeglin-Quintana, B., & Donovan, L. (2013). Storytime using iPods: Using technology to reach all learners. TechTrends, 57(6), 49–56.

From the ERIC abstract: “Many educators would agree that one way to enhance reading fluency is by being read to by fluent readers. The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of providing students with audio books via an iPod Shuffle during silent reading time at school. For six weeks, Kindergarten participants spent time either silent reading or listening to a recorded story on an iPod Shuffle during daily dedicated silent reading time. Results show that there was no impact of using the iPod Shuffle on reading fluency; however, students exhibited greater motivation to read, greater engagement in the process, and sustained interest in stories ‘read.’ The benefits to student self-esteem and study skills warrant the use of this strategy for students who may not have opportunities to be read to by a fluent reader on a consistent basis.”

Cahill, M., & Richey, J. (2015). Audiobooks as a window to the world. In IASL Annual Conference Proceedings.

From the abstract: “Library, literacy, and children’s literature professionals promote the benefits of transacting with audiobooks, and awards are bestowed upon audiobooks worldwide. Research spanning decades and conducted worldwide has explored the use of audiobooks for promoting literacy skill development. These studies have explored various uses of audiobooks and report mixed results for different types of readers and for readers of varying levels of proficiency. Yet, huge gaps exist in the research with many aspects of audiobook use still uninvestigated. This paper reports the disconnect between professionals’ claims regarding the benefits of audiobooks for children and those verified by empirical studies. It identifies the gaps in the scholarship surrounding audiobooks and calls attention to those areas in which audiobooks have potential to support children’s interests and needs.”

Eutsler, L., Mitchell, C., Stamm, B., & Kogut, A. (2020). The influence of mobile technologies on preschool and elementary children’s literacy achievement: A systematic review spanning 2007–2019. Educational Technology Research and Development, 68(4), 1739–1768.

From the ERIC abstract: “The presence of mobile technologies within preschool and elementary classrooms has been increasing, yet review studies which measure the effectiveness of mobile technologies to support children’s literacy achievement remains scarce. The purpose of this study is to conduct a systematic review to examine the influence of mobile technologies on pre-kindergarten—5th grade students’ literacy achievement between 2007 and 2019. Findings are reported according to study characteristics, followed by the patterns and trends related to achievement within and across literacy domains (phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, writing). We provide mobile device and app use strategies for teachers, while mapping clear research pathways for educational researchers and digital designers, with the ultimate goal of advancing the use of mobile technology to improve children’s literacy achievement.”

Parish-Morris, J., Mahajan, N., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R. M., & Collins, M. F. (2013). Once upon a time: Parent–child dialogue and storybook reading in the electronic era. Mind, Brain, and Education, 7(3), 200–211.

From the ERIC abstract: “Early experiences with books predict later reading success, and an interactive shared reading style called ‘dialogic reading’ is especially beneficial to emergent literacy. Electronic console (EC) books, CD-rom books, and e-book apps are designed to teach preschoolers preliteracy skills, but research has yet to systematically explore the impact of these types of books on established predictors of positive literacy outcomes. This research fills that gap with two studies investigating dialogic language and children’s story comprehension in a total of 165 parent-child dyads reading battery-operated, touch-sensitive children’s electronic console books or traditional books. Results revealed that parent-child dialogic reading and children’s story comprehension were both negatively affected by the presence of electronic features. Ways in which e-books may be altered to better serve as educational tools in this new era are discussed.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Stevens, E. A., Walker, M. A., & Vaughn, S. (2017). The effects of reading fluency interventions on the reading fluency and reading comprehension performance of elementary students with learning disabilities: A synthesis of the research from 2001 to 2014. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 50(5), 576–590. Full text available from

From the ERIC abstract: “Fluent word reading is hypothesized to facilitate reading comprehension by improving automatic word reading, thus releasing a reader’s cognitive resources to focus on meaning. Many students with learning disabilities (LD) struggle to develop reading fluency, which affects reading comprehension. This synthesis extends Chard, Vaughn, and Tyler’s (2002) review, synthesizing fluency intervention research from 2001 to 2014. The search yielded 19 studies examining reading fluency and comprehension outcomes of reading fluency interventions for students with LD in kindergarten through 5th grade. Results showed repeated reading (RR), multicomponent interventions, and assisted reading with audiobooks produced gains in reading fluency and comprehension. Providing a model of fluent reading and performance feedback, using easier level text, setting a performance criterion, and practicing RR with peers also contributed to improved outcomes. Findings suggest that RR remains the most effective intervention for improving reading fluency for students with LD. Limitations include sample size, only three group design studies, and infrequent use of standardized measures.”

Whittingham, J., Huffman, S., Christensen, R., & McAllister, T. (2013). Use of audiobooks in a school library and positive effects of struggling readers’ participation in a library-sponsored audiobook club. School Library Research, 16.

From the ERIC abstract: “A study was conducted to determine the impact of the use of audiobooks with struggling readers in a school library audiobook club. The participants met weekly in the school library with the school librarian and researchers to discuss audiobooks and make reading recommendations to their peers. Standardized test data as well as pre- and post-study interviews and surveys, teacher questionnaires, parent questionnaires, and student interviews were analyzed. The findings indicated that struggling readers’ use of audiobooks had a positive impact on reading skills and attitudes toward reading. These findings are significant given the dearth of research directly related to the impact of audiobooks, despite the prevalent usage of audiobooks.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • “audio books”

  • audiobooks

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched IES and Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2006 to present, were included in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Midwest) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.