Andrew Manches: Using Technology to Help Kids Learn
Andrew Manches, a Chancellor's Fellow at the University of Edinburgh who studies how children learn and interact with the world, discusses the best ways to use digital technology as learning tools for small children.
I'm a Learning Scientist. I look at the way that young children learn. I focus on the relationship between how children interact with the world and how that changes the way they think. Part of that leads me to look at technology and ask the question: What happens when children's interaction with the world is changed? So technology is evolving, we know that it used to be punch cards, then we moved to things like mouses, and now we're on touch screens but we're still going. And so it's trying to understand how these new forms of interaction change the way children think and learn. We've used technology for a long, long time; blocks or a book are technologies, so what we, in a way, always talk about is digital technology. But when we look back at things like books and blocks it's very often not what it is, but how it's used. So a little block could be used to throw at a greenhouse, or it could be used to build a tower, or could be used to learn about numbers. And it depends very much on how it's used and obviously, the adult plays a big role. Yes, if you leave a child with a piece of digital technology and come back later that's very, very different than sitting down with the child and talking and using the digital technology as a base to think and talk about different ideas. The younger children are, the greater the role of the adults, so would I use technology with a baby? Yes, there are lots of musical things that we can sing together lots of pictures we can work with. Are they great for a child that, really, is trying to put things in their mouth and wants to really experience things with their hands? No, not really, because they're still pieces of plastic, and there are many, many things that give children a lot better sensory experiences for that young age. However we're starting to move into an era where actually technology, you can put technology in objects. As always, we should be careful about comparing technology with other things, because technology is changing. The advice I would give parents is not to be afraid. What I mean by that is what will benefit children, ultimately, is a better understanding of the world they're growing up in. Be more confident because there'll be some things that children can do easily, other things they don't understand, and I think that it's important to recognise one of the myths that children, they look so natural, and they can pick things up easily; they're very good at pressing buttons very quickly and just learning by seeing what happens, but that takes you to a certain point, it needs more. It needs somebody to sit down and talk about it in exactly the same way as you would with a book, be involved and don't think that children would just pick it up as they go along.