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Toddlers May Learn More From Touch Screens Than Educational TV

Toddlers May Learn More From Touch Screens Than Educational TVInteractive touch screens may be better learning devices for toddlers younger than 2-1/2 years old compared to educational TV shows, according to new research.

“Some of our research is starting to show that even a young 2-year-old might be able to learn from interactive screens,” said Heather Kirkorian, Ph.D., assistant professor of human development and family studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“Just as ‘Sesame Street’ has closed education gaps for low-income children during the preschool years, we might be able to benefit even younger kids if we can use interactive media in the same way.”

Kirkorian, who directs the Cognitive Development & Media Learning Lab, looks for the link between a child’s attention while he or she is viewing to subsequent learning. In other words, while 2-year-olds watch a video, what exactly are they looking at—and does that predict what they learn from that video?

In some of Kirkorian’s studies, children watch “Sesame Street” and other shows to determine how viewers of different ages watch television. She also investigates the difference between learning from interactive versus non-interactive videos.

“We’re using touch screens to manipulate whether kids just watch a video presentation or whether they have to interact with it in some way to see what happens next,” said Kirkorian.

She noted that young children do not watch TV in the same way that adults do.

“Adults are very systematic when they watch television. They look at the same thing as each other. That’s a bit less true for 4-year-olds and very much less true for infants.”

The “video deficit,” a term which Kirkorian defines as “a very robust phenomenon that until about 2 1/2 to 3 years of age, kids learn much less from video than a real-life demonstration,” ties these two areas of research together.

Media producers and educators are only two of the potential users of this research.

“We hope that parents can use this research to decide whether, how, and how often they choose to use media in the home,” Kirkorian said. “We also hope that policymakers might use this research to inform their decisions.”

The effectiveness of her research relies on extensive interaction with children and students, and for Kirkorian that is the best part of her job.

“One of the things that is most rewarding is just being able to work with kids in the lab and being able to see what they do,” Kirkorian said.

“It always becomes much more meaningful when research comes to life and you see what kids are actually doing. Related to that is working with students—both grad and undergrad—in my lab for the same reason. It allows me as an instructor to bring research to life for them.”

Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison

Young girl interacting with a touch screen photo by shutterstock.

Toddlers May Learn More From Touch Screens Than Educational TV

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). Toddlers May Learn More From Touch Screens Than Educational TV. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 16 Nov 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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