Audiobooks are similar to text to speech software. The difference between the two is audiobooks are pre-recorded human audio, meaning accuracy is essentially perfect and computer speed and software are negligible. Obviously, audio books are also pre-set to a particular text. Audiobooks are recommended for weak readers, students with vision problems, or if reading activities require more portability.
For students with learning disabilities, audiobooks have been shown to be superior to silent reading practice (Esteeves & Whitten, 2011). Students with reading disabilities who were given audiobooks to practice instead of traditional silent reading time showed significant gains in fluency (measured in words per minute), increasing by 16 words per minute over an 8 week span, compared to 5 words per minute for students who practiced silent reading.
Audiobooks effects on comprehension have been explored, but not all studies agree. Two studies showed an improvement in student comprehension over traditional book reading (Korat, 2010 and Shamir et al, 2008). A third study showed no difference between book reading and audiobooks on both comprehension and student engagement (Grimshaw et al., 2007). In that same study it was also shown students given both the ability to read while having it dictated had significantly improved comprehension, but no improved engagement. It should also be noted as a general rule that listening comprehension is directly correlated with reading comprehension, meaning if a student can figure out the words, but doesn’t understand what they’re reading, an audiobook will not make a significant difference (Gander, 2013; Larson 2015).
More recent literature supports the efficacy of audiobooks as an education enhancement tool; audiobooks “model correct reading” and are best used with the student following along a written passage (Gander, 2013). In a non-controlled classroom study, students reported increasing stamina with reading and a general trend of increasing the amount of time reading over a five-week period (Larson, 2015).
When purchasing audiobooks there are several things to consider. Online reviews tend to discuss the quality of the narration, rather than the content. For this reason, researching reviews of print copies is recommended alongside audiobooks. The author of the print is not necessarily the best narrator, in fact, it can be better to have someone not the author (Beauregard, 2010). The ability to change narration speed was cited by students as helpful, depending on their proficiency (Larson, 2015). In the same study by Larson, certain e-book tools are coupled well with audiobooks based on student survey responses (see more on e-books here): dictionaries, insertable notes, text size, and background color. Students tended not to use margin size adjustment, font type changes, and highlighters.
The best practice for audiobooks is used alongside e-books; this has consistently shown to complement and enhance reading skills. Audiobooks have a misconception of not being seen as true reading, however, literature shows they are just as good or better compared to silent print reading.
Research Rating: Due to the experimental nature of the information cited in this description this information is to be trusted as valid and reliable.
Can boost comprehension and fluency, particularly when paired with the corresponding e-book.
Bypasses reading difficulties and giving poor readers access to content
Can store many books in one place easily
Opens up access to other aids, such as annotation tools
Favored by weaker readers
Mixed results showing how student engagement compares to silent reading
Requires headphones and a device to mount the books
Must review for quality of book and quality of narration when selecting books for classrooms
Many audiobooks have different features, such as ambient sounds, background effects, and multiple narrators. There is a wide spread of user preferences for these artistic choices, and no one-size-fits all.
Special Consideration: Workflow
Free to $
Has a collection of over 40,000. Gives you one for free
Exact prices change frequently, which is why only approximate ranges are listed.
$ - Under $5
$$ - Between $6 and $50
$$$ - Between $51 and $250
$$$$ - Over $250
Gander, L. (2013). Audiobooks: The greatest asset in the library. Library Media Connection, 31(4), 48
Adina Shamir, Ofra Korat, and Nili Barbi, “The Effects of CD-ROM Storybook Reading on Low SES Kindergartners Emergent Literacy as a Function of Learning Context,” Computers & Education 51 (2008): 354–67.
Ofra Korat, “Reading Electronic Books as a Support for Vocabulary, Story Comprehension and Word Reading in Kindergarten and First Grade,” Computers & Education 55 (2010): 24–31.
Sue-Ellen Beauregard. (2010). “Reviewing Audiobooks.” The Readers’ Advisory Handbookedited by Jessica E. Moyer and Katie Mediatore Stover. 48–56.
Grimshaw, S., N. Dungworth, C. McKnight, & A. Morris. “Electronic books: children’s reading and comprehension.” British Journal of Educational Technology 38:4, 583-599.
Larson, L. (2015). E-Books and Audiobooks: Enhancing the Digital Reading Experience. The Reading Teacher. 69(2), 169-177. DOI:10.1002/trtr.1371
Moyer, J E. (2012). “Audiobooks and e-books: A literature review.” Reference and User Services Quarterly. 51(4), 340. ISSN 1094-9054
Esteves, K. J., & Whitten, E. (2011). Assisted reading with digital audiobooks for students with reading disabilities. Reading Horizons, 51(1), 21–40
Written by Francis Wall, Last Revision May 2018