When it comes to storytime, digital may offer more learning opportunity, researchers say
Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) recently released findings which show that digital storybooks that animate when children speak offer beneficial learning opportunities, especially for children with less developed attention regulation.
Erik Thiessen, Associate Professor of Psychology at CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, said that while digital platforms have exploded in popularity, many digital interfaces are poorly suited to children’s learning capacities, “but if we can make them better, children can learn better”.
“Children learn best when they are more involved in the learning process,” Mr Thiessen said. “It is really important for children to shape their environment through their behaviour to help them learn.”
Using a three part study, researchers “stacked” a series of experiments, each building on the results of the previous component of research.
In the first experiment, an adult read to the child from either a traditional hardboard book or a digital book. In the digital platform, the pertinent noun/verb and a relevant image are animated upon the child’s first vocalisation. They found the recall improved using the digital platform compared to the traditional book (60.20 per cent to 47.35 per cent, respectively).
In terms of neuroscience, getting responses to vocalisation from either a digital book or from a parent or teacher is seen as rewarding, “and reward has lots of positive effects on learning. As we get reinforcement, the brain releases dopamine that can serve as a signal for learning at the synaptic level,” Mr Thiessen said. “At the cognitive level, reward promotes maintenance of attention to help the child focus on what is important, which could be especially important for children who have less well developed attentional control.”
The second experiment delved deeper to evaluate whether the positive results from the first experiment were an artifact of the novel experience using a digital platform. The researchers compared two digital books – one static and one animated. Again, children’s recall improved using the animated digital platform (64.72 per cent to 45.89 per cent, respectively).
Finally, the researchers explored the role of animations in recall and attention. They compared two digital storybooks – one that animates at the start of the page and one that animates upon an appropriate child vocalisation. Children’s recall was higher for the digital book that animated with the child’s vocalisation (59.42 per cent compared to 45.13 per cent).
In every experiment, children experienced better recall for stories when they were able to exert active control on the animations in the storybook. Using digital books was found to be particularly beneficial for children who have difficulty focusing, perhaps because the animated visuals, which integrate nonverbal information and language into the mix, the associate professor said.
Giving positive reinforcement to children who struggle with attention is beneficial because it facilitates learning by directing children’s attention to relevant content, Cassondra Eng, a graduate student who worked on the project said, noting that the responsiveness from the animation “may provide children with feelings of accomplishment and may serve as positive reinforcement, which in turn enhance learning”.
To learn more about the research, please see here.