What Toddlers Learn from Digital Media: Examining Child and Media Characteristics

Children and Screens

Several controlled lab studies evaluated what toddlers learn from digital media, and considered the role of individual characteristics (for example, age and prior media use) in that learning process. In an initial study, toddlers (ages 24-36 months) used a word-learning or spatial-memory game on digital media. They either watched a non-interactive video or used an interactive touchscreen app. In both cases, when tested using real, three-dimensional objects, younger children learned more from interactive videos than from non-interactive ones. They also learned more from interactive videos that required them to touch the relevant object on screen (rather than touch anywhere on the screen). Older toddlers were not found to learn better from interactive videos than from non-interactive ones. Follow-up studies examined the extent to which prior media use and cognitive abilities predicted toddlers’ ability to do spatial-memory learning from video. Prior interactive media use and performance on a working memory task both predicted how well toddlers would learn from a spatial-memory task on video. Prior TV or video viewing did not. Two new studies are now investigating toddlers’ spatial-memory and word learning from touchscreen apps that require interactions with either relevant or irrelevant on-screen objects. The investigators predict that learning will improve when the required interactivity highlights task-relevant information. Overall, toddlers can learn from digital media, and researchers should consider the moderating role of child and media characteristics.