Investigating the educational potential of touchscreen apps for children's early vocabulary acquisition

Lead Research Organisation: University of Salford
Department Name: School of Health and Society

Abstract

Children are growing up in an increasingly digital age, surrounded by digital media in the home, nursery and at school. Children's language development is strongly related to the language that they hear in their environment (Hart & Risley, 1995) and research suggests that parental screen media use reduces the quality and amount of language spoken to their children (Christakis, Gilkerson, Richards, Zimmerman, Garrison et al., 2009; Kirkorian, Pempek, Murphy, Schmidt, & Anderson, 2009; Pempek, Kirkorian, & Anderson, 2014; Radesky, Silverstein, Zuckerman, & Christakis, 2014). At the same time, screen media has the potential to provide a valuable source of language input and educational entertainment for young children. The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) have recently revised their recommendations for children's screen media use to account for this educational potential (AAP, 2016). The AAP encourage children aged 2-5 years to use screen media but restrict their recommendations to high quality educational screen media which should be used alongside their parents and caregivers and for less than 1 hour per day (AAP, 2016). The question remains however, what constitutes educational screen media for young children? For touchscreen apps, a recent review paper highlighted that apps that promote active, engaged, meaningful and socially interactive learning have the potential to educate young children (Hirsh-Pasek, Zosh, Golinkoff, Gray, Robb & Kaufman, 2015). While 72% of apps aimed at children are classed as "educational" (Shuler, Levine & Ree, 2012), there is little research evidence to back up or contradict these claims. Clearer evidence and guidelines for children's educational apps would provide invaluable knowledge for caregivers, early years practitioners and children's app developers.

The aim of this project is to investigate children's language learning apps to develop a scientific understanding of the app marketplace and to apply developmental theories of learning, memory and language acquisition to the development of educational touchscreen apps. The proposed project will combine a systematic review of the children's educational app marketplace with a series of empirical studies to explore how children learn language from touchscreen apps and digital media. The first phase of this project, a systematic review of the app marketplace, will to determine the educational potential for apps currently available to children using theories of language acquisition. These findings will then guide a series of empirical studies investigating children's app interaction and language learning outcomes. Furthermore, we will determine the role of caregiver interaction during children's app use on children's language learning outcomes to provide evidence on the AAP (2016) recommendation for parental co-use during children's screen media use. Across these studies, this project will advance our understanding of educational touchscreen apps designed to teach children language by providing evidence-based guidelines for touchscreen apps and contributing to the development of an evidence based word learning app. This project will also make important theoretical contributions to theories of word learning by incorporating evidence for word learning from digital media and as a result promote the development of evidence-based educational screen media for young children.

Planned Impact

The proposed research addresses the ESRC's strategic priority of new ways of being in a digital age. Our impact pathway ensures that our research on children's early learning from touchscreen apps has outcomes in terms of societal impact extending beyond apps with applications to children's learning from digital media more generally. We have identified three main beneficiaries: 1) app developers, 2) early years practitioners and 3) caregivers and children from both low and higher SES backgrounds. It is anticipated that proposed project will have a major impact for these beneficiaries by providing an insight into the way in which children learn from touchscreen apps and digital media.

Industry. We have approached two companies who work with children's educational apps, Pearson and Fundamentally Children. We will inform these companies about the progress of the project on an annual basis and anticipate that development projects for children's digital media will be informed by this research. We expect further impact from the proposed work through the development of a number of guidelines for the development of educational apps for young children.

Early Years Practitioners. One of the core early learning goals in Department for Education's Statutory Framework for the Early Years (2014) is that children can "select and use technology for particular purposes" (p. 12). We will liaise with early years practitioners on a regular basis throughout the project when recruiting and testing children for our empirical research studies, through this contact we will inform early years practitioners on best practices for children's digital technology use based on academic research.

Caregivers. Given the prevalence of screen media in young children's lives, caregivers will benefit from having a greater understanding about children's learning capabilities. Through regular contact with caregivers during the research process, we will be able communicate clear guidelines to determine whether educational apps are appropriate or not and inform caregivers about best practices when using screen media with children.

General Public. The research is also of general interest and relevance to the broader public. Our impact pathway includes regular press releases on the results of the studies, as well as outreach events in public understanding of science events. We will contribute to events such as the British Science Festival and the Manchester Science Festival, and local science organisation events, such as Café Scientifique. The proposed work will therefore have a positive impact on the public understanding of science.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description We have developed a list of 10 criteria to assess the learning value of apps aimed at preschoolers, the questionnaire that we have developed is designed to be used by parents, early years educators, app developers and academics. The criteria include; learning goal, meaningful learning, solving problems, feedback, social interactions, opportunities for exploration, storyline, quality of language, adjustable content and suitability of design. We have also developed a researcher focused evaluation for educational apps for preschool age children.
Exploitation Route Our criteria to assess the learning value of apps for preschool age children can be used by academics in research on children's apps, by parents and early years educators for selecting educational apps for children, and by app developers to understand what criteria are important for educational app development.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education

URL https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17482798.2020.1844776
 
Description Budapest CEU Conference on Cognitive Development - presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Taylor, G., Kolak, J. & Bent, E. (2021). Selecting educational apps for children: How useful are website rating systems? Budapest CEU Conference on Cognitive Development. Online presentation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Contribution to PostNOTE 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Interviewed for, and peer reviewed the UK Parliament PostNOTE titled "Screen use and health in young people"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://post.parliament.uk/research-briefings/post-pn-0635/
 
Description ESRC Festival of Social Sciences online webinar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Online webinar titled "What makes children's apps educational?"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/what-makes-childrens-apps-educational-tickets-121733798067#
 
Description EdPsy.org.uk blog post 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Kolak, J. & Taylor, G. (2021). How to check whether an "educational app" for preschoolers is truly educational? EdPsy.org.uk
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://edpsy.org.uk/blog/2021/how-to-check-whether-an-educational-app-for-preschoolers-is-truly-edu...
 
Description Participation in the "Research in the Park" event as part of the University of Salford Festival of Research 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Reseach Assistant organised lab activities for the Research in the Park event as part of the University of Salford Festival of Research on the 12th July 2019. Parents and children could stop by at the lab's stand and see the examples of experiments with the use of digital media, as well as hear about the studies and volunteer to take part in the studies in the future.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Participation in the ESRC Festival of Social Science 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Research Assistant attended the ESRC Festival of Social Science organised within the University of Salford on the 7th November 2018. The Research Assistant talked about lab research activities to the general public and University of Salford students, preliminary study results and recruited potential participants.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://blogs.salford.ac.uk/research/2018/10/23/esrc-festival-of-social-science-november-2018/
 
Description Poster Presented at CSH Digital Media and Developing Minds 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Kolak, J., Monaghan, P., Norgate, S.H., & Taylor, G. (2018). Understanding the educational potential of touchscreen apps targeting 2-5 year old children. Cold Springs Harbour Digital Media and Developing Minds 2nd National Congress and Exposition. New York, USA.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://blogs.salford.ac.uk/cognitive-development-lab/2019/01/24/our-research-presented-at-the-digit...
 
Description Poster presented at the 5th Lancaster Conference on Infant and Early Child Development 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Kolak, J., Monaghan, P., Taylor, G. (2019). "Can children learn new words from touchscreen apps? Employing fast mapping paradigm in a tablet study." 5th Lancaster Conference on Infant and Early Child Development (LCICD). Lancaster, UK.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://lancaster.app.box.com/s/kg2cpw02ff3q0jcag3z6wt4hw6n2lfv2
 
Description Poster presented at the Child Language Symposium 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Kolak, J., Monaghan, P., Taylor, G. (2019). "Do educational apps have the potential to teach children language? Comparing language in apps, books and CDS." Child Language Symposium (CLS). Sheffield, UK.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://blogs.salford.ac.uk/cognitive-development-lab/2019/07/17/do-educational-apps-have-the-potent...
 
Description Press release - Salford and Lancaster 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Press releases for the Journal of Children and Media publication by Salford University and Lancaster University
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.salford.ac.uk/news/how-check-if-educational-app-your-child-has-potential-promote-learnin...
 
Description Project Launch ITV Granda Reports 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The ITV piece was broadcast on the early and late shows for ITV North West, ITV Yorkshire East, ITV Meridian South and ITV Meridian South East news programmes.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://youtu.be/vTqYKti823I
 
Description Project Launch Press Release 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The piece was broadcast on bulletins on BBC Radio Manchester and on Hits Radio (formerly Key 103) and used on their Planet Radio website. The piece was also covered in the Manchester Evening News, MSN, About Manchester, and in the Educational Technology and Edquarter trade press.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.salford.ac.uk/news/articles/2018/new-research-will-investigate-childrens-educational-app...
 
Description Project Press Release 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This news piece was tweeted from the University of Salford PR twitter accounts
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.salford.ac.uk/news/articles/2018/how-your-child-learns-language-from-touchscreen-apps
 
Description The Conversation Piece 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Kolak, J. & Taylor, G. (2021). How to choose educational apps for pre-school children. The Conversation UK
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://theconversation.com/how-to-choose-educational-apps-for-pre-school-children-153575