Child on ipad

Learning from Touchscreens in Early Childhood

Principal Investigator: Heather Kirkorian, Ph.D.

Human Development and Family Studies

Young children are spending an increasing amount of time with interactive screen media (e.g., computers, iPad-style tablet devices) and the mobile application market is becoming saturated with allegedly educational products targeting toddlers and preschoolers. Yet we know almost nothing about the potential impact of these newer technologies on children. A growing body of research on non-interactive video suggests that these media are not educationally valuable for children younger than three years of age. However, some studies suggest that toddlers learn from screens when they are interactive. For instance, toddlers are more likely to demonstrate learning from video when interacting with a contingently responsive social partner on screen. What remains unclear is whether video needs to be socially interactive (i.e., adaptive, reciprocal) in order for very young children to learn. Does contingency in and of itself promote learning from screens by very young children? If so, how is it effective? Interactive media may have far greater potential than traditional screen media to offer any benefit to children younger than three years of age.

In the proposed series of experiments, we explore children’s learning (object-retrieval, word-learning) from contingent versus non-contingent video using a touchscreen device. These studies are unique in their multi-method approach to observe learning by very young children and in their focus on not justwhether but also how contingency facilitates learning. This project incorporates experimental tests of the role of contingency in screen-based learning; the novel use of cutting edge eye-tracking technology and methodology; increased knowledge of how young children attend to and learn from video; and improved understanding of how attentional processes influence learning from screen media. This project will generate applied knowledge that will educate parents, teachers, policymakers, and other child development experts about the efficacy of educational, interactive media products for very young children. This knowledge will also inform the production of these products to maximize learning.