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)
- learned something new about digital media.
In this article
Leveraging Digital Media for Language Learning
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.
Early Childhood Development 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.
Learning with Interactive Apps
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, install learning apps, and let them learn?
I assume you know the answer.
Fostering Effective Learning Strategies in Children Using Digital Media
As parents, you play a vital role in guiding your children's learning journey in the digital age. Balancing engagement with guidance is key to nurturing effective learning through digital media. Here are some actionable tips to help you support your child's early education while instilling valuable learning strategies:
Exploration and Encouragement: Encourage your child to explore a variety of educational apps and websites suitable for their age and interests. For instance, if your child loves science, introduce them to interactive science apps that offer virtual experiments and fun facts.
Active Participation: Engage in discussions with your child about what they've learned through digital media, helping them connect it to real-life situations. If they've watched a documentary on animals, discuss how the information relates to a recent visit to the zoo or a nature hike.
Promote Critical Thinking: Ask open-ended questions to stimulate critical thinking and problem-solving skills, encouraging your child to seek answers independently. For example, if they're playing an educational game, ask questions like, "Why do you think that happened?" or "How can you solve this puzzle?"
Structured Learning Environment: Establish a structured digital learning schedule with age-appropriate time limits, ensuring a balanced integration of offline activities such as outdoor play and face-to-face interactions. Designate specific times for digital learning, such as an hour in the afternoon, and stick to it consistently.
Quality Content Selection: Be discerning about the digital content your child consumes, opting for high-quality, educational materials. Choose apps and websites that are recommended by educators or have positive reviews from other parents.
Collaborative Learning: Encourage collaborative digital activities, fostering teamwork and communication skills. If your child is using educational software, consider multiplayer games or projects that require cooperation with siblings or friends.
Digital Etiquette and Safety: Teach your child about online safety, privacy, and responsible digital behaviour. Explain concepts like not sharing personal information online and the importance of respectful communication in digital spaces.
Regular Check-Ins: Stay involved by periodically checking your child's digital activities and progress, providing guidance and feedback when necessary. Ask them to show you what they've been working on and offer praise for their efforts.
Adapt to Individual Needs: Recognise that each child is unique; tailor digital learning experiences to match their learning style and preferences. If one child enjoys interactive math apps, another might prefer reading e-books or exploring educational YouTube channels.
Balance with Offline Activities: Ensure a balance between digital learning and offline activities to support holistic development. Plan family outings, arts and crafts sessions, or sports activities to complement their digital learning experiences.
By following these tips and integrating them into your parenting approach, you can empower your child with effective learning strategies while harnessing the benefits of digital media for their educational growth.
In an increasingly interconnected world, the power of digital media in learning is undeniable. It opens up a world of possibilities for learners of all ages, providing access to diverse resources and opportunities for learning. From interactive learning apps that facilitate active engagement to online communities that offer real-world practice, digital media has revolutionised the way we approach learning.
However, success in learning through digital media also requires a thoughtful and balanced approach. While digital tools can be highly effective, they are most potent when combined with real-world interactions and immersive experiences. It's essential to strike a balance between screen time and face-to-face communication to ensure comprehensive development.
Suggested reading on the topic
(1) Barr R. (2013). Memory constraints on infant learning from picture books, television, and touchscreens. Child Dev Perspect 7(4):205–210
(2) Griffith SF, Hagan MB, Heymann P, et al. (2020). Apps As Learning Tools: A Systematic Review. Pediatrics. 145(1):e20191579
(3) Reid Chassiakos Y, Radesky J, Christakis D, et al. (2016). AAP COUNCIL ON COMMUNICATIONS AND MEDIA. Children and Adolescents and Digital Media. Pediatrics. 138(5): e20162593
(4) Ansari and Khan (2020). Exploring the role of social media in collaborative learning the new domain of learning. Smart Learning Environments 7:9