Enhancing children’s learning through media and technology

Sesame Street App
Sesame Street App

With media becoming more and more prevalent in children’s lives, it is imperative for us as parents, educators, policy makers, and content creators to work together and help the next generation thrive and grow.

“Hey Google, can you play the ‘ABC Song’?”

“Can I use your iPad to read a story?”

“Can I watch Sesame Street?”

These are all phrases I have heard my younger cousin say on several occasions and I am sure a lot of households have heard similar questions. Whether it’s in the home or at school, children are not only using technology for entertainment, but they are also using it to learn. From listening to the ABC song, to reading a story on an iPad or watching Elmo share his toys on Sesame Street, media and technology can provide children with an innovative and unique learning experience.

That being said, this brings up a lot of questions. Are electronic storybooks actually helping children learn new vocabulary? Do children remember and learn from the lessons shown on Sesame Street? Are apps that are labelled as “educational” actually helping children to learn?

A recent report in 2017 surveyed approximately 1400 parents living in the US to determine the patterns of media use among children between 0 and 8 years. It was found that 98% of these families had some type of mobile device in their home compared to 41% in 2011 and 63% in 2013. Due to this increasing prevalence of media and technology in children’s everyday lives, researchers have dedicated their efforts into answering these important questions.

“Certain media and technologies have been found to enhance children’s learning and development only if they are used appropriately and made with the proper content.”

Certain media and technologies have been found to enhance children’s learning and development only if  they are used appropriately and made with the proper content. For example, the interactive and multimedia features embedded within electronic storybooks have been found to help with children’s vocabulary and story comprehension only if they are relevant and congruent with the story. Other studies have shown that engaging with a familiar media character can help children learn to manage their emotions and learn new math skills, but this was not found when children engaged with an unfamiliar character.

While these examples highlight how media and technology can be beneficial to children’s learning and development, the big question is: How do parents and content creators know what terms such as ‘used appropriately’ and ‘proper content’ actually mean? Although scholars are constantly researching the impact of media, these findings are 1) slow to reach those in the entertainment industry who actually create children’s media content and 2) quite inaccessible to parents who don’t have the time or resources to sift through the large amount of research done in this area.

How can we increase the communication between scholars and content creators?

One way is to increase awareness about the research being done in this area. The Center for Scholars and Storytellers (CSS) is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to improving youth-targeted storytelling by bringing together scholars and content creators to create supportive, engaging, purposeful and educational media content for children and youth. CSS is actively keeping up with the latest research and sharing their knowledge by collaborating and consulting with other scholars and experts in the media and entertainment industry, translating research into reports, articles and blogs and hosting workshops.

“How do parents and content creators know what terms such as ‘used appropriately’ and ‘proper content’ actually mean?”

While this sounds promising, it only solves part of the problem. Many companies are not aware of this organization or let alone the research that exists in this area, thus, they continue to produce and advertise media content that has not yet been empirically researched. This leaves parents having to choose between millions of apps, Youtube videos and TV shows without truly knowing if they are beneficial to their child’s learning and development.

What are some tips for parents to help them navigate the market?
  • Be mindful consumers while selecting media and do your own research.
  • Before purchasing an app, google the company name who created the app and read their mission statement and explore their website.
  • Make use of organizations such as Common Sense Media, who not only provide detailed reviews of various media but also advice for parents.
  • Investigate the specific app or Youtube channel yourself before letting your child use it.
  • Be actively involved while your child is using any type of media or technology. For example, ask questions about the content and ensure they are staying on task.

Keeping these in mind, the next time my younger cousin asks to read a story on the iPad, I will make sure to do my research beforehand so that I can confidently pull up an app that has the appropriate features and content needed for her to learn.

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