Free «Effects of Handheld Devices on the Learning of Toddlers» Essay

Effects of Handheld Devices on the Learning of Toddlers


The world has been consistently moving towards a digital age and now it is rather difficult to find a classroom in which digital culture has not been embraced. Most students at schools are using tablet computers in the learning process and the general assumption is that these gadgets enhance their learning experience. Strangely, there are not enough studies to support or refute this claim. Most of the investigations on the impact of tablet computers on the learning process of students within different school settings are conducted by interested parties whose findings cannot be fully trusted. The scholars who offer credible information on this subject provide contradictory findings either stating that tablets are good for the students or that they have no impact on students’ learning process or even outcomes. It can be noted that in the recent past, tablets were even used by the younger children in pre-school. In addition, parents have started exposing their toddlers to these gadgets from as early as 6 months with the purpose to prepare them for digital world (Donohue, 2015). The reality in this case is that little is known regarding the specific effects of these handheld devices on learning and development of a toddler. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises against exposing toddlers to tablet computers until they are at least two years old but they do not explain why. This research aim at providing parents, guardians and teachers with the sufficient data on how handheld devices affect toddler’s learning abilities. The purpose of the study is to establish the specifics on how tablet computers affect toddler’s learning. 

Research Questions

  1. What are the positive and negative effects of handheld devices on the learning abilities of toddlers?
  2. How can handheld devices be used to enhance learning in toddlers?
  3. What kinds of activities should toddlers engage in on a handheld device to optimize learning?

Theoretical Framework

The theoretical framework selected for this research proposal is the Health Promotion Model that was developed by Nola Pender. Health promotion focuses on helping patients, their families and communities attain the highest level of well-being possible within their specific contexts (Pender, 2011). Health promotion is thus often considered as a basic set of activities aimed at influencing the individual and the society as a whole to embrace healthier practices that will improve their health.

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According to Pender (2011), there are four assumptions that help define the model. First, each individual makes an effort towards taking control of his or her own behavior. People are not always controlled and thus they make their own choices regarding their lifestyle. The second assumption is that people generally strive to improve not only their lives but also their surroundings. This implies that an individual is likely to embrace any concept that guarantees some improvement in his/her personal and collective contexts. Thirdly, the model assumes that all health care professionals have an impact on the behavior of individuals related to their health. The assumption here is that individuals in society actually listen to their health care providers and thus these professionals can influence them for the better it terms of health. The last assumption is that the only way to change one’s behavior is to ensure that the change comes from within, and is supported by the individual’s environment (Pender, 2011). Therefore, while an individual can be coerced or compelled into changing, the only way to ensure that he/she succeeds is to have him/her decide to change and offer support.     

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Review of Literature

Growing up in a digital age is considered easy, or at least that is what most people argue. With so many gadgets around that make work easier, a common assumption is that these devices actually have a positive impact on the ability of students to concentrate and thus perform well in school. Tablets and laptops are a common commodity in the present day classroom. Children as young as 6 years of age have access to tablets that have learning applications, which are meant to aid them in class (Donohue, 2015). The real impact of these gadgets on learning experience and outcomes of the students however is not as simply deduced as one may imagine. This literature review will focus on studies that were able to investigate the actual impact of digital technology in a class setting.

Media Exposure and Literacy

According to Kucirkova (2014), iPads were branded as educational tool in spring, 2010 and since then, pre-school children were taught to use them in class as a part of their learning process. This study particularly focuses on one iPad app, seeking to establish how educational it really is. The app was called Our Story and it was popularized at the time as a story-making app that was created to teach child to tell their story by creating audio-visual texts. The child could add texts or sounds to any picture, either taken using the iPad’s camera or retrieved from the gadget’s memory in order to create a custom story. The researchers in this case found that the level of involvement exhibited by children is dependent upon the learning activities, which they can access with the gadget at hand. For example, Children using the Our Story app were seen to engage in learning more than when using any other app (Kucirkova, 2014). They were fully engrossed in the learning process, exhibiting self-regulated interest, critical engagement and structure dependent engagement. Thus, if the students are provided with the right applications on their digital gadgets, they are likely to enjoy the learning process more. The level of engagement exhibited by the students while using Our Story was considerably higher comparing to solving Jigsaw puzzles. When they were presented with drawing and coloring challenges on the iPads, they also did relatively well. The conclusion in this case is that children are able to focus more when they have some level of freedom to test the limits of the software they are working with. Generally, a part of the learning process for these children involves exploring the limits of the software and finding out what more they can do. This is what makes the learning process fun and thus they are only able to benefit from apps that are not too limited like the Jigsaw puzzles.

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Neumann (2016) in his study sought to understand the impact of these tablets on children’s emerging literacy. The study investigated about 109 Australian pre-school children who were exposed to tablets at home. The aim was to establish whether these tablets had anything to do with their emergent literacy. In this case, emergent literacy can be defined as the ability of a child to identify numbers, to name letters or identify associated sounds, or distinguish their shapes and even print them. Exposing a child to tablets that have educational apps is supposed to have a positive impact on their learning process. In this study, however, the researcher establishes that there are no direct correlations between time spent with tablet and child’s emergent literacy. Rather, the study uncovered that the impact of tablet on child’s emergent literacy is dependent on the quality of child’s experiences with the tablet (Neumann, 2016). Correspondingly, exposing a child to a tablet is not all that parents need to worry about at preschool age. Rather, it is important for parents and teachers to appreciate that the right quality of tablet experience will improve the child’s ability to recognize letters and numbers and to print signs while in pre-school.

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Media Exposure and Cognitive Development

Tomopoulos, Dreyer, Berkule, Fierman, Brockmeyer & Mendelsohn (2010) studied media exposure and its impact on toddler’s development. This study followed 259 mothers for about 38 months from November 2005 to January 2008 in order to establish whether exposing their children to media from the age of 6 months would have any impact on their development by 14 months (Tomopoulos et el., 2010). The researchers specifically focused on children from families with low socioeconomic background. The findings indicated some cases of lower cognitive development in children who were exposed to media. Only one of child, however, exhibited lower language development. Therefore, media exposure only affected children’s cognitive development. Considering that these children were exposed to media from six months, the researchers concluded that exposing a child to tablets and other digital gadgets before he/she turns two years old could have a negative impact on their cognitive development. The American Academy of Pediatrics also argues that the best time to expose a child to media is at age 2 (Tomopoulos et el., 2010). This study does not provide conclusive evidence on how media exposure affects cognitive development of a toddler but the findings are rather clear that it does. This calls for further research in order to establish the specifics on how exposure of a child to media before their second birthday can damage their cognitive development.     

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Media Exposure and Learning

Wiley, Cameron, Gulati & Hogg (2016) in their study explored the potential of a tablet within a classroom setting, with a particular interest in children and young adults with disabilities. The researchers relied on previously collected data in which an iPad was the tablet computer in use. The participants were from a segregated special education school and a pre-vocational center. Their physical and intellectual disabilities were not specifically considered during the study. The findings however indicated that once exposed to the right tablet, the students were able to experience enhanced engagement within their respective classroom context (Wiley et el., 2016). The challenge in this case lies in finding appropriate applications determined by the specific student’s level of activity. Students in this study were only able to benefit from tablet computers in their learning process, when the used applications were relevant to their abilities. Most educational applications are created with a specific learning outcome and it remains up to the teacher, parent or guardian to ensure that they expose their child to the right applications or else the student will get bored, loose interest or simply get frustrated. The argument in this study is that tablets can enhance student’s engagement within a classroom setting but for this to happen, the tablet must have applications that the student can actually work with easily but also put in some effort. The whole fascination with tablets within a learning context is the student’s ability to discover new things and to push the limits of the software in question.

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According to Dundar and Akcayir (2012), there is no significant difference in reading and comprehension speed between students who use tablets and who prefer conventional books or papers. These researchers compared the reading and comprehension speeds of about 20 students, randomly divided for control and treatment (Dundar and Akcayir 2012). The students who were in the control group were provided ordinary books to read, while their counterparts in the treatment group were given the exact same text in e-book format to be read on a tablet. The expected outcome within nonprofessional contexts was that those reading from the tablets would have an easier or harder time than their counterparts using the conventional books depending on what they were used to.

However, the results showed no significant differences in the way these students read or understood the text. These findings present a certain element of dilemma concerning the role of tablet computer in the student’s learning process. If the students in this study did not have any response to reading on a tablet then there may be no difference whether the student uses or not a tablet in school. The findings of the study call for a thorough evaluation of the use of tablet computers in an organizational setting. The initial assumptions indicated that the tablets actually enhanced the learner’s engagement thus improved their learning outcomes. This study provides contrary results thus calling for a new investigation on the exact premises within which the tablet computers can enhance learning of students.

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Media and Teaching

From the perspective of a teacher, the role of tablet computer in the  learning process is quite significant. Since the introduction of tablet computers with educational software that can be used within a school setting, teachers have grown increasingly dependent on these gadgets to engage the students in their studies. Ciampa (2014) investigated the experiences of both teachers and students who were using tablet computers within the classroom setting. This study focuses on the self-perceptions of students and teachers related to using tablets within the classroom, and thus the results are purely attached to intrinsic motivation. The findings indicate that both students and teachers were very engaged in the learning environment when they used tablet computers. The author explains that motivation for the enhanced learning experience in this context occurs because of a number of factors as related to the findings presented by Malone and Lepper in their 1987 study (Ciampa, 2014). Challenge, control, sensory and cognitive curiosity, competition, cooperation and recognition all played vital roles in motivating the students to be more engaged. Teachers within this context were then motivated to incorporate tablets in their teaching exercises to experience the high levels of engagement of their students.

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In their research, Khoo, Merry, Nguyen, Bennett and MacMillan (2015) focused on how teachers can use iPads to teach children in ECD settings to improve their learning and exploring experiences. According to these researchers, teachers were able to make use of the iPads within four specific contexts. First, the iPads were used as relational tools for establishing a relationship with children. The children were curious about the iPads and thus the teachers were able to nurture this curiosity and get the children to share their thoughts on the gadget and discuss the way it works (Khoo et al., 2015). Secondly, the iPads were used as communicational tools, which teachers adopted to communicate with their students in real time. Thirdly, iPads were used as documentation tool, which enabled students to take pictures and use them to tell a story later on or to remember a moment. Lastly, these tablets were used to access the Internet and collect information. Generally, the research showed that importance of a tablet within an educational context simply depends on how a teacher uses it. The same knowledge can be applied at home when exposing toddlers to a tablet computer. Parents and guardians have to understand how to use these tablets to enhance their child’s experiences rather than imped their cognitive development as noted earlier in the paper.  












Research Design

This research will conduct a longitudinal study to observe how handheld devices affect learning in toddlers. The participants will be randomly selected before they are born and they will be monitored for any intellectual disabilities until their learning curve can be monitored. The participants will be divided into two groups, the control group, which will be kept away from handheld devices for as long as possible and the treatment group, which will be exposed to these gadgets as early as six months old. The subjects will be evaluated using standard learning tests appropriate for toddlers with an interest in their cognitive and language development. The focus will be oriented at the pace at which these kids pass their developmental milestones. The findings will then be explained from the scientific perspective of developmental psychology within the 0.5-3 age bracket. 


According to a published sample guide, the accurate sample population for this study is 400 toddlers. The researcher will thus have to seek out 400 toddlers randomly not limited by gender, location or socio-economic status. The participants will be recruited from local public and private hospitals as well as clinics.

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Inclusion criteria

Newborn babies with a stable health status and a mother who is willing to participate in a longitudinal study

Exclusion criteria

Babies with health complications at birth, as well as hesitant mothers


To evaluate a child’s learning ability, the research will use the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ). The ASQ is an assessment tool that requires the child’s parents or guardians to monitor the development of the child from as early as 4 months, with regular intervals until the child is 60 months old (Bicard, Bicard, Nichols, & Plank, 2012). The ASQ generally involves up to 18 questionnaires but the researcher will only be interested in the ones that are to be filled out between 6 and 36 months.

Data Collection Procedures

After getting all the necessary approvals, the study will start by identifying the hospitals that can be targeted to recruit participants. The target sample includes pregnant mothers who are almost due or have newly born babies within the geographic vicinity of the university. This will ensure that the researchers do not have to travel too far to find the participants and in case there is a need to ensure that the recruits are healthy, the researchers can obtain or to see a copy of their medical records in order to minimize errors in findings. After finding potential participants, the researchers will screen them using the stated inclusion and exclusion criteria before explaining to them, in a language they are comfortable with, why the study is being conducted, how they are required to participate and how it may or may not benefit them. Considering that this is a longitudinal study, the researchers have to build strong relationships with the participants and honesty is a key for future success of the study. For the recruitment process, the meetings will be held within the hospitals and clinics that are familiar surroundings for the participants. The ASQ questionnaires will be filled out at the participants’ convenience and then mailed to the researchers at the stated intervals.

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