September 30, 2022
Written by 
Christie Pang

From Audible to ChatGPT: Going Old‑School Before Going Forward

“The point of reading is to appreciate the narrative, appreciate the beauty of the language, and the particulars of how you got to that point of appreciation really doesn’t matter so much.”

— Daniel T. Willingham, Professor of Psychology on application of cognitive psychology to K-16 education

My 6-year-old daughter cannot put books down - at the dinner table, in the car, in bed - she is constantly scarfing down literature, to her parents pride and delight. It was not trained-behaviour, nor was it replicable; her little brother would not follow suit without much cajoling, much to his parents dismay. Recently, however, he has found his sweet spot with audiobooks - in particular the Berenstain Bears series - which he loved to listen to on the ride to school every morning (it was also because of this that I first heard and learned about the “-stain” vs. “-stein” conundrum, a separate and intriguing topic of discussion, I later realised). To our surprise, he came home one day a few months later with a letter from his Pre-K teachers commending him for his reading competency, with the suggestion that we treat him to two scoops of ice-cream that night.

Without much doubt, 100% of us believe books are great for our kids.

…as windows to the world, as inspiration for their imagination, as “spoonfuls of sugar” that help otherwise mundane subjects “go down”. In our increasingly on-the-go culture, audio-books and podcasts are a great answer to “I don’t have time to sit and read”.

From increasing reading accuracy, reading speed, expanding vocabulary, improving fluency, teaching pronunciation, to the all-round benefits of having a multi-modal learning experience, audiobooks and podcasts have certainly become one heralded way technology could benefit early childhood reading ability. So it is fair that we dedicate some discussion space here at the Collective to the History of the Audiobook.

Did you know…

Audiobooks first emerged in 1932 on vinyl records and stayed relatively nascent for decades. The audiobook industry really gained traction when Amazon rolled out it’s first Audible device in 1997.

Photo: Amazon’s Audible released the first portable audio player for audio books in 1997. Courtesy of Audible.

Very soon after, voice performer Jim Dale’s reading of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series in over 200 different voices hit digital shelves in 2015 with a bang. Since 2016, audiobook sales have overtaken hardcopy book sales (USD2.1bn vs USD1.8bn in the US alone).

Hard to imagine, right?

Yes, books have stood the test of time AND technology and remained a centerpiece in education. We now have eBooks made available on Kindle and iPad minis, reducing the need to carry your entire library around. Audiobooks further broke down physical and logistical barriers to anyone looking to consume a piece of literature.

Audiobooks vs eBooks

We asked 200+ parents and educators who liked audio-books and e-Books how they compared the two in the world of children’s reading tech (with the broad definitions of “audiobooks” being books you listen to; “eBooks” are books you read on a screen, be it a kindle, laptop, tablet, or phone).

Here are the key considerations caregivers had, and your opinion about each tool when sizing them up.
Photo: categorical results from survey on what caregivers consider critical when choosing between signing up for an eReader subscription for kids, vs listening to audio-books with them

Best of both worlds - try the Interactive AppBook (with ChatGPT)

We asked children’s book authors and development specialists to tell us how they think the best of all worlds might be captured if they could create an optimal tech-enabled reading tool for Gen Alpha.

Meet one of our advisors, Christine Ma-Lau, founder and principal at JEMS and author of Thankful Theo, a contemporary children's book with multiple layers of great content for parents and children.

We asked her a couple of questions about inspiration, themes (apart from duh - thankfulness), vocabulary and linguistic styles she used to aid a child's imagination and boost the educational value of her book.

Here’s an interview with her about how she would like parents to co-read Thankful Theo with their children. This inspired us to think about what ChatGPT and gamified learning can make co-reading a reality in resource-constrained environments.

By combining:

  1. The interactive nature of apps, with multiple-choice scenarios asking the child what they would do
  2. Open-ended Q&A with ChatGPT reading companion to boost engagement and character empathy
  3. The option for sound-only (ie screen-off)
  4. An “Author’s Own Words” video-guide for parents with suggestions on dinner convo topics, offline activities, and mashups with pop culture
  5. The added bonus of animation to highlight emotions and action/reaction

...we spent an afternoon with Christine and a few months with our engineers, designers and animators jamming ideas on an ideal App-reader interface.