As Good as the Real Thing? A Comparison of Learning from an Educational Touchscreen App versus a Hands-On Material

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Eisen, Sierra, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Lillard, Angeline, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

Children’s lives are increasingly entwined with mobile technology, particularly within the educational realm. As touchscreen devices have risen in popularity and accessibility, educational applications (apps) for children have flooded the market (Shuler, Levine, & Ree, 2012). Yet educational mobile technology lacks rigorous comparison between apps and the materials they were designed to replicate. In three studies, we examined geography learning—specifically, the states of Australia—from an educational app and its puzzle equivalent. In Study 1, 32 five-year- olds were randomly assigned to either the puzzle or the app condition. After 20 minutes of interaction with the learning tool, children in the puzzle condition learned significantly more states than did children in the app condition. In Study 2, 32 five- and six-year-olds underwent the same procedure as in Study 1, but then were given the learning tool to use at home for one week. Although children in the puzzle condition initially learned more states, there were no significant learning differences after one week. Children in the app condition used the learning tool during the week for over twice as long (M = 78.75, SD = 65.80) as children in the puzzle condition (M = 32.70, SD = 32.83), and time spent with the learning tool was only correlated with increased learning for the puzzle condition. In Study 3, 32 five- and six-year-olds were run in a social app condition in which the experimenter taught the lesson from the puzzle condition using the educational app. Children in the social app condition learned as much as children from the puzzle condition and more than children from the app condition of Studies 1 and 2. This research provides a crucial investigation of the differences between learning from apps and traditional, hands-on materials and suggests that learning from a touchscreen app is most successful when supplemented with in-person social interaction.

MA (Master of Arts)
learning, touchscreen devices, educational apps, social interaction
Sponsoring Agency:
American Montessori Society
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
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