British Columbia

UBC study finds iPad apps can teach kids just as well as human instructors

Researchers in UBC’s department of psychology compared how well children learned new facts using an iPad app versus being taught in-person by an instructor.

Researchers found that children can learn just as well from interactive media as from face-to-face instruction

A study conducted by UBC found that interactive media can be helpful for young children, but warns not all screen time is created equal. (Reuters)

A study conducted at the University of British Columbia found that young children can learn just as well from interactive media as from in-person instruction. 

Researchers from UBC's department of psychology compared how well children learn new facts using an iPad app versus being taught by a teacher.

They asked two groups of 43 children aged four to eight years old to play a game that quizzed them on different animal facts.

One group played on an iPad, while the other was led by an instructor.

When the children were later quizzed on their knowledge, the two groups demonstrated the same levels of learning.

Not all screen time created equal

The study may come as a surprise to parents worried their children spend too much time glued to their screens. 

UBC psychology professor Susan Birch was the lead author on the study. (UBC Public Affairs )

Previous research has found that children do not learn effectively from television and videos, and that excessive screen time can prevent kids from getting enough sleep

UBC psychology professor Susan Birch is the senior author of the study, which will be published in the Frontiers of Psychology journal.

She said that little research has been done about potential benefits of interactive forms of media. 

"What's unique about interactive media is it's responsive or reactive to the child's responses, which makes it a bit more similar to social interaction and potentially more engaging for children," she said. 

Striking a healthy balance 

Birch said that while interactive media cannot replace the benefits of in-person interactions, parents should consider the role it can play in enriching children's learning. 

"I think that parents are right to be concerned about how much screen time their children are having," she said.

"I'm not saying that interactive technology could ever or should ever replace face-to-face interaction, but I think what's interesting is that perhaps, used in moderation, it can be useful to supplement learning."