The proliferation of tablets in American homes has given rise to yet another powerful trend — one that affects the brains of children.
At issue is what happens in a young brain when most learning occurs with the help of a touch screen.
The long-term effects of this have yet to be determined because the technology is so new. But Tim Lynch, who has long studied the interplay between psychology and tech, said one thing is for sure: Children who learn from the very beginning using touch-screen devices are having their brains wired differently than other learners.
“We humans make synapse connections in different ways depending on how we learn,” he said. “Since touch is involved as well as problem solving, kids will create different paths than when using paper.”
Theories on the impact of the interface range from exuberance over new possibilities in education to fears about potential harm.
Tablet ownership soars
The resulting debate seems to be having little impact on tablet sales, however.
A Pew Research Center study released two weeks ago found that tablet ownership has almost doubled over the past year, with parents helping to drive the trend.
Tablet ownership among parents with children under the age of 18 living at home rose from 26 percent in April 2012 to 50 percent in May 2013.
The study, which is based on survey results, also found that parents were almost twice as likely to own a tablet than non-parents.
What’s best for children?
Lynch, a proponent of active learning, said tablets are more effective teaching tools than more passive techniques, such as rote memorization or paper-and-pencil exercises.
“The computerized learning experience, especially when you add touch, is an active learning process,” he said. “The more senses involved in the learning process, the better the retention and ability to generalize the knowledge.”
But the either-or-debate as presented by Lynch may be missing the point, particularly when it comes to young children.
Nancy Darling, a professor of psychology at Oberlin College, said in a blog post on Psychology Today said parents of children younger than two need to prioritize rich sensory experiences — those that are all around us and not on a screen.
“Run your hand over a rug or the couch,” she wrote. “Now run it over the screen of your tablet. Which is more interesting and provides a richer textural experience? Which smells? Which is more complex?”
What’s best for older children remains the subject of competing studies.
A small but growing number of researchers have found evidence suggesting that readers are better able to remember the content of a printed book versus an electronic screen.
But a study conducted on behalf of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt found that students who used its Algebra 1 app overall scored better on tests than those who didn’t.
Moderation is the final word from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The prescription for now from the authority on children’s health includes limited screen time and access to books, newspapers and board games.
Andrew King is a former editor and business reporter for the Journal News in New York. His work has also appeared on the website of USA Today.Tags: Business,Education,Gadgets & Devices,Lifestyle