Learning in the Digital Age

If you’ve ever read a storybook to a toddler, you’ve probably caught them treating the pages like an iPhone or an iPad – swiping the cover or attempting to enlarge the pictures with a tap of their finger. There’s no doubt that today’s early learners are interacting with technology much earlier and on a much broader scale than their parents or even their siblings ever did.  While this brings unprecedented opportunities for engaging and interactive learning experiences from an early age, it also raises many questions for parents, who may be overwhelmed by the range of digital apps and tools on the market.  

According to recent research, 60% of apps for young children classify themselves as educational. With so many choices available, where should parents start when looking for enriching learning apps for their children? How can they know which apps are truly educational, trusted and effective?  

The proliferation of digital devices amongst young children also raises the question: “How much is too much when it comes to technology?”  While digital tools can facilitate learning in new and engaging ways, research has shown that screen time should be limited to one to two hours per day for children aged 3-18 to promote healthy social development and avoid potential physical and behavioral risks

HMH believes that technology can be a powerful learning tool when combined with quality education content.  So, we’ve put together a few recommendations to help parents and young learners identify and maximize the impact of educational apps, as part of a healthy “media diet.” 

  • Get Involved — Look for tools and media that encourage you to be involved in your child’s progress. Whether through participation in in-app activities or setting real-world tasks that mirror or complement app challenges, parental involvement in a child’s education can encourage learners to perform better and enjoy the learning process more.
  • Complement the Curriculum — Seek out tools that draw a direct connection to current classroom curriculum - practice makes perfect after all! The extra practice will improve your child’s confidence and performance in the classroom. 
  • Track Progress — Many learners feel more comfortable in a game environment than they do taking an exam. Take the opportunity to check in on your child’s progress with in-app tasks and activities. Tracking and updates available on several educational apps can allow parents and teachers to monitor how well young learners understand and practice concepts.
  • Cultivate Curiosity — Look for content that sparks your child’s curiosity, imagination and wonder. An app that explores outer space or the ocean’s depths can open the door for a trip to the library to find books about the solar system or coral reefs. 
  • Consider the Source — Some quick background research can offer insight into the values and educational principles of the product-maker, so that you can feel confident that the app you choose is rooted in expert research and examined pedagogy.
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Mary Cullinane is Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s first Chief Content Officer and Executive Vice President of Corporate Affairs. She began her career as a classroom teacher and spent a decade as an educator, Director of Technology and administrator. She then went on to spearhead Microsoft′s education-related innovation programs and initiatives worldwide, including its national 1:1 access programs and the School of the Future in Philadelphia. At HMH, she is leading the transformation of the company’s global content development function in support of its mission to change people’s lives by foster passionate, curious learners.