Touchscreen mobile devices (eg, smartphones, tablets) have become ubiquitous for young children.1 Interactive applications or “apps” considered “educational” for young children have similarly gained in popularity2 and are increasingly being integrated into early childhood classrooms as learning tools because of perceived advantages for child engagement and active learning.3 The integration of interactive app technology into children’s lives at home and school has outpaced research needed to inform comprehensive recommendations for its use. Recommendations have thus far focused on preventing overuse of screens4 rather than opportunities for maximizing learning. Research on whether young children can learn from interactive apps; the academic, cognitive, or social-emotional skill domains that may be best supported by interactive apps; and the conditions under which this learning may be maximized; is still emerging.
“Apps as Learning Tools: A Systematic Review”1 is a timely look, from a developmental and educational perspective, at the mobile device apps that even young children are using today. This review is as important to us in observing what we do not know as what we do.
In a year when we are celebrating 50 years of Sesame Street as an iconic, genre-defining educational television program, we need to be reminded of just how revolutionary it was and continues to be (and how it has set the gold standard for educational media). Sesame Street dramatically changed early childhood education not only because it made preschool learning available to everyone who had a television but also because it used the unique access and attraction of television to teach in theoretically based, research-proven ways. The genius of Sesame Street is simple: education scholars conducted formative research to design programming that was pedagogically sound, and once the shows were made and shown, they conducted summative research to evaluate how effectively the programming met intended goals.2 The success of Sesame Street drew imitators, some of which were good, but most of which simply aimed to cash in on the fact that parents would encourage their children to watch a television program that was labeled educational, whether there was any research supporting that claim or not. Although there is still no requirement that educational claims made about children’s media be backed by research, concerned consumers supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics motivated a reality check in 2009, forcing a recall and refund of Baby Einstein videos.3,4
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