Research shows children only learn words through human interaction
Published: Monday, October 21, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 21, 2013 23:10
A recent study done by the university’s Infant Language Project’s Roberta Golinkoff, a professor in the School of Education, co-authored with two professors at other universities, showed children can only learn through social interactions and not through secondary sources such as videos.
“The way kids learn words is from the interactive care itself,” Golinkoff said.
The study, “Skype Me! Socially Contingent Interactions Help Toddlers Learn Language,” was published Sept. 23. She said the inspiration for her research came when she, along with some fellow colleagues, saw how many parents were on cellphones around their children.
“You see parents everywhere on cell phones when they were with little kids,” she said. “We were wondering if it had a negative impact on the kinds of communication between the parents and the child that promote word learning.”
Golinkoff, along with Sarah Roseberry of University of Washington and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek of Temple University, decided to test the impacts of social interaction and social contingency on infants’ learning. Thirty-six children between the ages of 24 months and 30 months were part of the study, which had the children learn new words either from a live person, a video chat like Skype or a prerecorded video.
The result showed children learned new words from video chats and from live interactions, but they did not learn new words from the pre-recorded videos. Interacting with children becomes crucial for a child’s verbal learning, and, without it, parents might risk slowing down their children’s learning process, Golinkoff said.
“It occurred to us that it was possible that the cell phone interruptions were getting in the way of [the learning] process,” she said. “If you use the cell phones all the time when you interact with the kids, you might be—in the end—hindering their language development.”
Both Martha Buell, a human development and family studies professor, and freshman Ruth Carfagno, an elementary education major, said social contingency still applies to college students.
Buell said she noticed her students learn better when she poses questions and has them interact during class. She also says watching a pre-recorded video of the classes, such as what UD Capture or online courses offer, would not help students learn as well as going to a live class.
“I think college students are the happiest when they are actively involved with learning something,” Buell said. “If you watch on UD Capture, and you have a question, you can’t ask the question. If you try to answer the question, and you didn’t get the answer, there is no way for the professor to give feedback.”
Although Carfagno found UD Capture useful when she needed to hear a lecture again from her classes, she said she does not get as much out of a watching a video as she does in the classroom.
“Unless a video has actually, has doing problems while watching the video, it’s not exactly helping them work—it’s just throwing information at their heads, expecting them to retain it,” Carfagno said. “As much as I hate waking up early, I think I would rather be actually in the classrooms.”
Buell said she thinks Golinkoff’s study on the effects of social contingency stresses one of the key concepts of childhood education. Both Golinkoff and Buell said they dismissed the credibility of popular pre-recorded videos such as the Baby Einstein videos in regard to their function with helping children learn.
“These people are not really checking out their claim, they just want to make dough,” Golinkoff said.
Buell said early childhood learning videos can impair learning because the child could be misinterpreting the meanings of words being taught due to a lack of feedback. She said she emphasizes the role of feedback when it comes to infant learning. Parents and teachers need to provide specific and precise feedback to children in order for them to fully understand what they are learning.
Not all technology, however, has a negative impact. Golinkoff said a new technology like Skype, or other video chats, can be beneficial for childhood education because video chatting encourages interactions.
Buell said Golinkoff’s research could be an implication for the role of technology.
“We shouldn’t be afraid of technology, if what technology is doing is building a human relationship,” Buell said.