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Study: Tablet Computers Hurt Kids' Ability to Learn Words

by Fox Van Allen on July 24, 2013

Boy with TabletLos Angeles made nationwide headlines recently for signing a $30 million contract to supply every student in the city with an iPad tablet. It was a controversial move for the nearly bankrupt city to spend so much money on a new technology, but that’s just how promising tablet-driven learning seems to be.

Personally, I’m a big believer in tablets for kids. But an alarmist headline in the U.K.’s Daily Mail suggests that there may be a downside to tablets we haven't considered.

The piece, entitled “iPad generation 'will learn fewer words' as oral tradition of passing on knowledge is dying out,” focuses on a study done by the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London. In it, the argument is presented that children who learn from tablets, a primarily visual medium, will have a harder time memorizing words than those who learn by repeating audio speech.

“The brain is wired to learn sound through auditory processes, not visual,” explains Dr. Mario Catani, a researcher at the Institute. “That is why we have oral traditions, with knowledge passed from generation to generation.”

With all due respect to Mr. Catani, I’m not sure he has a solid creative vision of the future of tablet education. It’s a visual medium, sure, but it’s also an audio one. And it’s not just a one-way audio communication anymore. We’re speaking in plain language to Siri for directions, just as kids in classrooms across the country will soon be interacting with virtual teachers to supplement their real ones.

If you think Mr. Catani's concerns are valid, I'd love to hear from you in the comment section below. If instead you think tablets are an intriguing way of advancing your child's education at home, then I offer you this: Techlicious's list of the best kid-friendly tablets and the best apps for kids. And just in case Mr. Catani is right, it wouldn't hurt to check out this vocabulary-boosting app too.


Family and Parenting, News, Phones and Mobile, Mobile Apps, Baby & Toddler, Kids, Blog

Discussion loading


From Benny on July 29, 2013 :: 3:09 am

I see most of my middle class friends stick little Hugo in front of an iPad whilst banging on about some trendy topic like Israel and telling how great these educational games are for them. I do not believe them. I predict generations of naughty, square eyed, poorly coordinated screen jabbers who only know how to beat educational games.

I’ve got 3 young kids (all under 6) and a PhD in computer science and none of them will be going near ANY technology until they are 10. I read with them, practice writing with them, throw a ball, go cycling etc.



From Jerome on August 14, 2013 :: 10:17 am

I recently posed this question to a forum of dad’s, wondering if there really was a large difference between reading to kids with the iPad or via book. The results were a bit mixed, with some reporting that they see no difference and interect with the audiovisual aspects along with their kids, and others prefering books. I guess we are at that crossover phase.

As a developer (Discloser: I am Creative Director of Wivern Digital) making educational apps that actively try to boost vocab via stories, I was surprised to read the above study, as it does seem to exclude the audio book options that many (perhaps most) new book apps have. Many also have line tracking, showing words or lines as they are read by the narrator.

On a personal note, I would have loved to have an iPad as a kid because it really is magic on the page. And if you add friendly guides to help explain words so children don’t need to reach for/bring up the dictionary but instead interact with the storyteller or guide, then personally I feel tablets have a better change of teaching new words that traditional books did.


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