How do young children learn new words from tablet apps? A new study

By Dec.08, 2020

There are many factors that influence children’s learning from digital media. One of them is the context of learning. Children are often involved in a passive video viewing context. This means that they don’t have the influence over the order in which the new information is presented to them, and they are not asked to interact with the screen. Previous studies showed that a more active context – in which children interact with the screen and can choose the order of what is to be learned (for example by selecting the pictures or activities on the screen) – is more beneficial for their learning.

A recent study published in the journal PLOS One by Lena Ackermann and colleagues shows the opposite – in this study, surprisingly, children aged 2-4 learned more in a passive than in the active context. Children in the study were learning labels of novel objects. In the active condition, children were allowed to choose which objects they were taught the label of (“Look, here are two pictures. Pick one”), while children in the passive condition were presented with objects in a fixed order, without being able to influence their learning environment. It turned out that children in the passive condition learned more object labels.

The results of the study suggest that while children might benefit from interactive apps under certain conditions, active learning might not always be effective in touchscreen-based word learning tasks. The authors comment that interacting with the app by tapping may take up valuable mental resources. Thus, children in the passive condition, who do not have to allocate their mental resources to tapping, have more capacity to retain the information presented to them.

You can read the full article here.

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