Computer Instruction and Learning to Read

There seems to be an ever increasing reliance on game-based computer technology for early reading instruction. Consequently, McTigue et al.’s (2019) meta-analysis of the research into the effect and limitations of such instruction is timely.  These researchers focused on GraphoGame, an internet-based learning platform, developed by neuropsychology, linguistics and special education researhers, consisting of a series of educational games designed to teach letter-sound correspondences and word recognition. The games on this platform adapt to the learner’s performance and provide specific feedback.


The researchers evaluated 28 empirical, peer-reviewed studies, representing 2,430 students (kindergarten to 2nd grade), 11 languages and 14 countries. Although none of the studies included students formally diagnosed as dyslexic, 18 of the studies selected participants with risk factors associated with difficulties in learning to read.

  • There was no evidence indicating that GraphoGame improved students’ word reading.
  • Although students often learned from GraphoGame, their learning did not typically surpass that of control groups not using the game.
  • There was evidence of significant growth in sub-lexical skills such as syllable reading, letter sounds and phonological processing.
  • The amount of time spent using the game did not result in significant differences in outcome.
  • The built in reward system became less effective overtime.
  • The higher the adult interaction, the better the outcomes for the student. It appears that adults helped sustain the students’ motivation and engagement with the game and facilitated transference of the skills learned to text reading.


  • Computer-based educational games are most effective when adults are actively involved. This should include motivation to sustain attention, but also the verbalisation of the concepts being learned and the transference of this knowledge to other situations.
  • Use computer-based educational games in conjunction with authentic and social reading activities (i.e., embed in lessons as a part of overall instruction). For examples, the studies that had the strongest positive outcomes were characterised by an integrated approach whereby using GraphoGame was immediately followed by small group, teacher-led instruction (presumably in alignment with GraphoGame activities).


These research findings suggest that we should be wary of relying on computer-based programs as a key teaching tool and that for computer-based programs to be effective an adult must be actively involved.


McTigue, E. Solheim, O., Zimmer, W., & Uppstad, P. (2019). Critically reviewing GraphoGame across the world: Recommendations and cautions for research and implementation of computer-assisted instruction for word-reading acquisition. Reading Research Quarterly, 55(10), 45-73.

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