What helps children learn difficult tasks: A teacher’s presence may be worth more than a screen, Trends in Neuroscience and Education, December 2019

Katarzyna Kostyrka-Allchorne, Amanda Holland, Nicholas R. Cooper, Woakil Ahamed, Rachel K. Marrow, Andrew Simpson

Trends in Neuroscience & Education, December 2019

What helps children learn: is it a presence of a live teacher or an interaction with the learning materials? Addressing this question, we manipulated a teacher’s presence (on-screen vs. present) and activity (observing vs. doing) while teaching children about the properties of geometric shapes.

Five-year-olds (n = 215) completed two shape-sorting tasks in which they distinguished between typical, atypical and non-valid shapes. In between these tasks, they took part in one of four training sessions: doing teacher-present, observing teacher-present, doing teacher-on-screen and observing teacher-on-screen.

Although children’s shape knowledge improved across all training conditions, learning showed an interaction between teacher presence and task difficulty. In a teacher’s presence, children learned more about the most difficult (atypical) shapes, irrespective of activity. It may be the social interaction, associated with a teacher’s presence, that enhances learning. Conversely, physically taking part in interactive touchscreen training did not result in more learning than passive screen viewing.”


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