Learning from Digital Media: The Effects of Social Engagement

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 11, 2018: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
L. A. Bird and M. L. Allen, Lancaster University, Lancaster, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Digital learning is revolutionising education, it’s increasing prevalence in the classroom has inspired new approaches to teaching. Many language interventions for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are now being delivered via digital technology, such as tablet-devices, due to their accessibility and easily tailored functions. Despite the extensive use of digital learning evidence of its effectiveness remains scarce and contradictory. Furthermore, how children potentially engage with technology, and the effect this has on learning has not yet been explored, which is particularly important for children with ASD whom characteristically struggle with social functioning.


The present research compared how children with ASD engage with iPads and traditional storybooks, and examined the effect this had on the learning and retention of novel words.


Two groups of children between 4-11 years participated, 21 children with ASD (10 iPad, 11 book) and 21 children with other developmental disorders (DD; 10 iPad, 11 book). Both groups were matched on receptive vocabulary age equivalents (ASD iPad M: 6.1 years, book M: 6.76 years; DD iPad M:6.39 years, book M: 6.17 years). During a story book interaction presented as either a traditional book or on the iPad, participants heard 2 novel words 4X times each. Word learning was then assessed using a picture based referent selection task immediately, and again after a 24-hour delay. Social engagement with the task and experimenter was also assessed using observations of experimental footage.


A mixed factor analysis showed no difference in word learning performance between presentation medium (F(1, 37) = .040, p = .843, ηp² = .001), suggesting neither books or iPads are a superior instrument, nor detrimental to learning. Further validation of this was provided by a non-significant interaction between task delay*group*condition (F(1, 37) = .385, p = .539, ηp² = .010) also suggesting both groups learned and retained words at a similar rate. However, controlling for disengagement from the task revealed an advantage of iPad-based learning across the test delay (F(1, 36) = 4.481, p = .041, ηp² = .111).

Social engagement was analysed using a multivariate analysis which showed a significant effect of presentation medium (V = .179, F(8, 30) = 2.286, p = .048, ηp² = .379, observed power = .777). Closer inspection revealed increased engagement via medium-directed attention with the iPad (M = 46.24) compared to the book (M = 18.25). However, medium-directed pointing revealed the opposite effect, with children in the book condition (M = 1.68) pointing towards the medium more than children in the iPad condition (M = .15).


Word learning occurred at a similar level between books and iPads for both participant groups. However, an advantage for iPad-based learning over traditional books was found when disengagement from the task was controlled for. Social engagement measures revealed an increase in medium-directed attention towards the iPad, but an increase in pointing towards the book; suggesting children are more focused when content is presented on an iPad, however engage more socially when using traditional books.