Understanding How Young Children Learn
Bringing the SCIENCE of Child Development to the Classroom
by Wendy L. Ostroff
The Video Deficit
Research in developmental science has overwhelmingly shown that educational television is not an effective tool for imitative learning in young children. Because imitating what we observe is such a powerful vehicle for learning in real life, creators of educational television programs and DVDs for infants and children have assumed that the same should be true for virtual observation. However, young children have trouble using information presented on the television screen for cognitive tasks including solving problems, learning new words, recognizing themselves, and learning to imitate simple new skills (Barr & Hayne, 1999; Deocampo & Hudson, 2005; Hayne, Herbert, & Simcock, 2003; Kremar, Grela, & Lin, 2007; McCall, Parke, & Kavanaugh, 1977; Povinelli, Landau, & Perilloux, 1996; Schmitt & Anderson, 2002; Skouteris, Spataro, & Lazaridis, 2006; Suddendorf, 1999; Suddendorf, Simcock, & Nielsen, 2007; Troseth & DeLoache, 1998; Zelazo, Sommerville, & Nichols, 1999). The same tasks are incredibly easy for young children to learn from direct interaction. Termed the video deficit, several ideas have been offered as to why learning from video is by nature mis-matched with our world. First, when interacting with a real person, young children undergo a constant process of checking in with him or her for information about shared experience (Baldwin & Moses, 1996). Actors on television (of course) cannot respond if the child wants to interact or communicate, and they do not share the child’s environment or experience.
Sheer lack of information could account for the video deficit, video images being literally flat in comparison to experiences in three dimensions, which provide depth, texture, motion, edges, and patterned light. Research has only begun to identify all of the cues around us that aid in our understanding of the world (e.g. Barr, 2008; Barr & Hayne, 1999; Barr, Muentener, Garcia, Fujimoto, & Chavez, 2007). For young children, whose perceptual abilities are still developing, a lack of cues is especially detrimental. In one example, infants and toddlers from 12 to 30 months of age imitated simple actions significantly less often after watching a model on television complete them versus watching a live demonstration (Barr & Hayne, 1999; Hayne et al., 2003). Clearly, situated learning is higher-quality learning.