Virtual Learning, Real Results: Supporting Young Children's Learning in Our Media-Saturated Environment

Virtual Learning, Real Results: Supporting Young Children's Learning in Our Media-Saturated Environment

Kristelle Lavallee Collins (Digital Wellness Lab, Boston Children's Hospital, USA) and Michael Rich (Digital Wellness Lab, Boston Children's Hospital, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-8649-5.ch022
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The COVID-19 pandemic shifted norms and expectations regarding young children's use of and exposure to media and profoundly reshaped their formal and informal education, especially in the earliest years of pre-school and kindergarten, a time when the social milieu of the classroom is so important. While it has been well documented that media use can affect young children's physical, mental and social health, development, and aspects of their learning, we don't yet fully understand how young children's learning and development will evolve in our post-pandemic, screen-saturated reality. This chapter explores several key elements of young children's learning with digital media including: 1) understanding digital media as tools for achieving focused learning goals, 2) strategies for selecting media that are optimal for young children's learning, and 3) how to recognize and avoid the potential risks involved with young children's learning with screen media.
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Media As Educational Tools

When it comes to educational digital technologies, today’s children are growing up in an expansive, largely beta-testing environment, one where tech innovations typically outpace our academic understanding of them. A prime example of this is the rapid market release of applications or apps for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, often labeled educational and marketed to parents of young children.

During the first quarter of 2017, there were a total of 522 million apps labeled as ‘educational’ that were downloaded from the Apple App and Google Play stores worldwide (Sensor Tower, 2020). In the first quarter of 2020, during which the first COVID-19 lockdowns began, educational app downloads increased to a total of 936 million from both the Apple App and Google Play stores (Sensor Tower, 2020). With increasing demand and new educational apps entering the market daily, evaluating them all is impossible due to the lack of funding, time, and resources, thus, the educational designation applied by the app maker is largely unregulated and untested (Hirsh-Pasek et al., 2015). Numerous digital devices, shows, podcasts and games also bear the educational label, with only a select few having scientific evidence supporting the claim.

With such a tsunami of options, it can be difficult for parents and other caregivers to know what platforms, apps, and devices will actually promote their desired learning outcomes for their children. Given the sheer number of choices and lack of clear information on what is best, it is easy to see why many caregivers provide young children with digital media under the guise of it being “just for fun” without believing that it will support children’s learning (Maddux & Cummings, 2004). Videos, digital games, shows, devices, and apps can be deeply engrossing, and occupy young children for long periods of time. While parents, especially those needing to simultaneously work and supervise a young attention-seeking child, may feel drawn to the opportunity to provide digital technologies to occupy their child, it is important to recognize and acknowledge that the media are not being used to educate the child, but, in best case scenarios, to distract them.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Modeling/Parental Modeling: Showing a child how to behave by acting that way yourself (for example, not taking your phone out at the dinner table).

E-Books and E-Readers: Short for electronic book (or electronic reader), a published piece of writing that is accessible through a digital format.

Digital Literacy: The ability to consume, engage with, and create digital media critically.

Media: The collective term for different types of mass communication (television, computers, phones, etc.).

Persuasive Intent: The attempt to influence consumers’ behaviour by changing their mental states, for instance, their attitudes and cognitions about a product.

Co-Viewing/Joint Engagement: The act of watching or engaging with a medium together (for example, a parent and child watching a tv show together and talking about what they see), known to mitigate negative aspects of media consumption.

Educational Technology: Any technology such as a computer program, online program, application or other that utilizes educational theory to facilitate learning.

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