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New research highlights importance of live interaction for children

Sarah Roseberry

Sarah Roseberry -

Dr. Sarah Roseberry, director of translation, outreach, and education for the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, conducted research on the learning capabilities of children through face-to-face interaction over video chat. 

Photo by Anastasia Stepankowsky

A new study conducted by the UW, Temple University (TU), and the University of Delaware (UDEL), has found that children are able to learn more effectively through live interaction and video chat technology such as Skype, as opposed to watching a traditional educational video.

Before coming to the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the UW (I-LABS), Sarah Roseberry conducted the study at Temple’s Infant Lab as part of her dissertation study as a graduate student.

“We were interested in how kids learn language. One of the things we know is that kids seem to learn really well from live social interaction with other people, so we were interested in figuring out exactly what it was about social interaction that was working for kids,” Roseberry said. “One thing we thought about was this idea of the turn-taking component of social interaction, which is something that we call social contingency. It’s this sort of back and forth responsiveness that naturally occurs in live social interaction.”

The study consisted of 36 toddlers ages 24-30 months, who were exposed to three types of learning conditions: live social interaction, video chat, and traditional video. Twelve toddlers were placed in each of the three learning conditions, and were taught new words for actions such as blicking and frepping. Nonsense words were used to control for children’s prior knowledge of the meaning of actual words.

After being exposed to one of the three learning conditions, toddlers were given a “test” to demonstrate what they learned.

Roseberry said they played two video clips simultaneously, with one action on one side and another action on the other. The children had seen that one of the actions described a new word they learned, and the other action was completely new.

“We would ask kids to find the matching action on the screen. Kids who had learned the new words could do this task very easily. What we are looking for when we test language learning is the percentage of time children looked towards the matching and non-matching actions, or the left and right hand side of the screen.”

The researchers found that kids in the live interaction and video chat learning conditions were able to find the matching action on the screen, while kids who were in the traditional video training did not.

The researchers also found that children were able to recognize the matching action even when it was performed by a new person in a new setting, a task which is traditionally difficult for toddlers to grasp.

“We were surprised that kids learned so readily from a Skype conversation, when it was reciprocal and contingent on what the child said,” said Roberta Golinkoff, research physiologist at UDEL and one of the designers of the study. “It didn’t work when the child viewed someone else’s conversation. So this study nails the importance of social interaction for young children’s word learning.”

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, professor of psychology at Temple and coauthor of the study, agrees with the impact the study had on learning progression.

“The research has important implications for language learning,” Hirsh-Pasek said. “Children are less likely to learn from DVDs and televised programming than from live, back-and-forth responsive interactions with caring adults. Young children are not good at learning language if they’re merely parked in front of screen media.”

Reach reporter Karina Mazhukhina at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @karina9m

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