Benefits of Digital Learning

Last week, I gave my first talk in German. It was about learning languages in a digital world. The conference went well because I:

  • (almost) overcame the fear of speaking German in front of an audience (just a side note - my mother tongue is Croatian, and I speak English. German is by far my weakest language) and
  •  learned something new about digital media. 

 If you think about it - I wouldn't have even been there, talking about digital media and learning if there weren't any digital media. Thanks to communication platforms, social media, all kinds of websites and online libraries, I was able to present my topic. In German. 

 So, let me share with you what I read about learning, children and digital media.

 I shall skip the part with babies and young children learning with digital media. Why? Because children under the age of two or three can't really learn this way. Young children are still developing cognitive, language, sensorimotor, and social-emotional skills, which require hands-on exploration and social interaction with trusted caregivers for successful maturation. At this age, children also experience something called "Video deficit" - difficulty learning from 2-dimensional videos. The video deficit is thought to be attributable to infants' and young toddlers' lack of symbolic thinking, immature attentional controls, and the memory flexibility required to effectively transfer knowledge from a 2-dimensional platform to a 3-dimensional world (1). So, the best way children learn is – through play.

 Slightly older children can learn something with digital media. But, even they learn better if using digital apps with their parents. 

 Considering children who can learn from digital media, emerging evidence suggests that interactive apps may be useful and accessible tools for supporting early academic development (2). First, the authors analysed 1447 studies (35 were included in this review). Then, they presented a narrative synthesis of studies examining whether children under six can learn from interactive apps. In short - they can. 

 Interactive apps have the potential to support active engagement with learning material through embedding learning concepts into game-like activities, scaffolding children's learning through adaptive learning technology, providing feedback and rewards through gameplay, and promoting the repeated practice of foundational skills. Furthermore, besides academic development, using digital media facilitates exposure to new ideas and knowledge, increases opportunities for social contact and support, and new opportunities to access health promotion messages and information (3). And finally, online social media used for collaborative learning significantly impacted interactivity with peers, teachers and online knowledge-sharing behaviour.

 Additionally, interactivity with teachers, peers and online knowledge-sharing behaviour has seen a significant impact on students' engagement which consequently has a significant effect on students' academic performance (4).

 Wow, there are so many benefits of learning with digital media. But I guess the main question is, "how do we obtain these benefits?"

Will children learn much if we only give them smartphones, instal learning apps and let them learn? 

 I assume you know the answer. But this is a topic for another article.

 Suggested reading on the topic

(1) Barr R. Memory constraints on infant learning from picture books, television, and touchscreens. Child Dev Perspect. 2013;7(4):205–210
(2) Griffith SF, Hagan MB, Heymann P, et al. Apps As Learning Tools: A Systematic Review. Pediatrics. 2020;145(1):e20191579
(3) Reid Chassiakos Y, Radesky J, Christakis D, et al., AAP COUNCIL ON COMMUNICATIONS AND MEDIA. Children and Adolescents and Digital Media. Pediatrics. 2016;138(5): e20162593
(4) Ansari and Khan. Exploring the role of social media in collaborative learning the new domain of learning. Smart Learning Environments (2020) 7:9