Preschoolers can learn from educational television, but younger toddlers may learn more from interactive digital media — such as video chats and touchscreen mobile apps — than from TV and videos alone, which don’t require them to interact.
That’s the conclusion of a new study by Heather Kirkorian in Child Development Perspectives that also cautions that not all types of interactive media increase learning and not all children learn to the same degree from these media.
Nonetheless, the distinction between passive and interactive media is important.
In her article, Kirkorian analyzes research on how toddlers learn from digital media, particularly in their early years.
Kirkorian concludes that interactive media may be more demanding cognitively because children must decide on and generate appropriate motor responses. But interactive media may facilitate learning by promoting a sense of agency, increasing children’s engagement through personally relevant responses or guiding children to look at relevant information on the screen. Studies have found that toddlers learned from video chats as well as computer games and touchscreen apps, with the impact depending in part on the extent to which interactive features directed their attention to relevant information.
Furthermore, the degree to which interactivity boosts learning from screens varies considerably, according to Kirkorian, who notes that the reasons for this variability are unclear and may have to do with age-related changes in children’s learning strategies or constraints in children’s cognition. It may also relate to the inability of some children (especially boys and younger toddlers) to inhibit their behavioral impulses: Toddlers who can’t resist the impulse to tap the screen tend to learn more from watching noninteractive videos than from games or apps that require them to interact with the screen in a certain way.