Do Babies Learn From Digital Media?

Course excerpt from Effects of Digital Media on Children’s Development and Learning

Do babies learn from digital media?Anecdotal reports from many parents suggest that their babies are learning to read, or count, simply from their exposure to “educational apps” on a variety of digital devices. We have previously read about some companies that label children’s software as educational, even if they have no evidence to support the teaching claims. Current research is underway to more clearly delineate what babies and toddlers can learn from digital technology. A few of the recent studies which have been published provide evidence that suggests that much of what is being advertised at “educational” technology, as well as software, may not really be developing babies’ cognition. Some of the researchers of studies we will review next have strong concerns about the amount of time that babies are left in front of video/media screens or devices.

Neuman, Kaefer, Pinkham & Strouse (2014) used a randomized trial of what they termed “baby media” to answer the question, “Can babies learn to read?” They developed their study in response to the high number of baby media products on the market that target children as young as 3 months of age, and purport that their product will teach babies to read. They developed a randomized controlled trial to investigate the effects of a best-selling, well-known baby media product on reading development. This study included 117 infants between the ages of 9 and 18 months, who were randomly assigned to treatment and control groups. The baby media product that was being used in this experiment included DVDs, picture and word flashcards, and word books. The materials were used daily, according to the product’s instructions for a 7-month period for the children in the experimental group.

Following the use of the intervention, Neuman, et al. (2014) found no evidence to indicate that babies in the treatment group could read or attend to words or text any differently than the children who had not had the 7-month period of instruction (the control group). Interestingly, the parents of the children in the treatment group reported that their children did know significantly more words in the program than those in the control group. However, these differences were not supported by the standardized vocabulary measure used by the researchers. That is, although the parents of the children who had the 7 months of instruction believed that their babies were beginning to read, these children were not able to identify words or phrases after the completion of the intervention. The results of Neuman, et al. (2014) indicated that babies did not learn to read using baby media, even though some parents continued to display great confidence in the program and purported that their babies were beginning to read.

Clearly, parents do need to have more information provided to them that will assist them in selecting appropriate technology and software. In the survey studies discussed earlier in this course, many parents expressed the need for more information that they can use to identify digital technology that can positively benefit their young children. As a result, current research is beginning to provide this type of information, which will assist parents and practitioners in selecting appropriate technology and software.

Williams and Lee (2016) recently published an article with suggestions for helping parents, children and teachers to navigate their way in today’s world of conflicting messages about technology and media. They pointed out that literature doesn’t even agree on what “technology” entails, and began their article with a 2012 position statement that jointly issued by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College. Included is an abbreviated version of the definitions used in this position statement, but the process of traditional refereed publications in professional literature inadvertently leaves us in a time-delay from what has been considered to be “current literature.” We simply cannot keep up with the incredible speed of what is published online through blogs, position states, and an ever increasing number of reputable sources for evidence based information.

Since many technology products are being marketed as learning tools, and both parents and teachers want to help children learn, the logical conclusion is that parents and teachers must be able to discern which technology tools are appropriate for infants’ and toddlers’ learning. Early childhood educators are also advised to approach the use of technology from a position of balance. That is, according to Williams and Lee (2016) “Any use of technology should be safe, encourage verbal thinking and social interactions, and allow for freedom of exploration” (259).

Effects of Digital Media on Children’s Development and LearningEffects of Digital Media on Children’s Development and Learning is a 3-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that reviews the research on media use and offers guidance for educators and parents to regulate their children’s use of digital devices. Today’s world is filled with smartphones used by people ignoring their surroundings and even texting while driving, which is criminally dangerous. Are there other dangers that may not be as apparent? Media technology (e.g., smart phones, tablets, or laptop computers) have changed the world. Babies and children are affected and research reveals that 46% of children under age one, and up to 59% of eight-year-old children are exposed to cell phones. In England, nearly 80% of senior primary-school staff reportedly are worried about poor social skills or speech problems of children entering school, which they attribute to the use of media devices. Media technology affects family life, children’s readiness for entering school or preschool, and classroom learning. Recent research delineates a developmental progression of understanding information on devices for children between ages 2- 5 years. Younger children may believe false information if it is on a computer. This research is important for understanding technology uses in education. There are also known health risks and possible adverse effects to social-emotional development. Statistics describing the increase of media technology and developing trends in media use are presented along with guidelines and position statements developed to protect children from risks and adverse effects. Course #30-96 | 2017 | 50 pages | 20 posttest questions

This online course provides instant access to the course materials (PDF download) and CE test. After enrolling, click on My Account and scroll down to My Active Courses. From here you’ll see links to download/print the course materials and take the CE test (you can print the test to mark your answers on it while reading the course document). Successful completion of the online CE test (80% required to pass, 3 chances to take) and course evaluation are required to earn a certificate of completion. Click here to learn more.

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