Educational Software and Academic Benefits
With promises of future success for their bright and ready-to-learn children, parents are purchasing educational software in droves. In fact, the educational media business is booming, with cumulative sales in the tens of billions of dollars range. Claims targeting specific educational outcomes, such as “teaches language and geography skills” and vague educational claims, like “....can help stimulate cognitive development” appear on jackets of most educational software marketed to youth. Are such claims valid? Can children and adolescents actually learn from these electronic “teachers?” As the review below will illustrate, the answer to these questions varies by the age of the child and the academic area under investigation.
Zero- to Two-Years-of-Age
Infants and toddlers are exposed to educational software on both computers and hand-held devices, such as the V-tech Leapster. Educational software claim to benefit youth on a variety of cognitive abilities, such as reading readiness (e.g., letter recognition), math (e.g., counting, addition), language (e.g., vocabulary), and pattern recognition. Unfortunately, during infancy and the toddler years there is no empirical research to validate these claims. Given that exposure to educational DVDs during the first 18-months of life do not appear to benefit youth academically, and may even impair vocabulary development, parents may wish to wait until at the child is at least a year-and-a-half-old before exposing their children to educational software.
Three- to Five-Years-of-Age
Education software does appear to benefit preschoolers in areas important for school readiness. For instance, preschoolers exposed to educational showed greater improvements on two key components of reading success: (1) the ability to detect and manipulate sounds in language and (2) the ability to create and recognize words. However, whether or not educational software can impact grammar is unclear. As of yet, educational software has been unable to provide the type of realistic socially relevant cues that are needed for grammar acquisition during childhood.
Although several studies have found that preschooler’s mathematical abilities improve as a result of educational software, other studies have failed to demonstrate this effect. Variations between programs may explain the inconsistency. Educational software providing immediate and simple feedback (such as the marking and erasing answers) has been shown to foster mathematical learning, whereas competitive games and grouping questions by difficulty tend to impede it.
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