Computer—Its Effect on Children’s Learning and Development Psychology 2 Dec 1st, 2001
The role of computers’ effect on childhood education has been a widely controversial topic for decades, and both parents and educators have concerns about the potential benefits or harms to young children. Critics argue that introducing technologies in schools will only waste time, money and childhood development itself by speeding up the pace and cutting down on essential learning experiences that children must face (Cordes & Miller, 2000; Healy, 1998). On the other hand, proponents to the idea suggest that children should take advantage of what the newest technologies has to offer. There are also some concerns that technologies are not being optimized in the best way to help children learn. Being an undergraduate student majoring in computer science, I have an utmost interest in researching if computer can in fact be a critical part of children’s learning in the future. For the purpose of this paper, I will review the considerations for technology use in childhood education based on researches from different researchers and psychiatrists, and I will also attempt to find an answer to the ongoing question of whether computers can fully replace traditional teaching methods.

A fact that both critics and proponents of computers in the classroom do agree on is the importance of the “early years” in a child’s physical, social-emotional, language, and cognitive development. Perhaps the most researched area of development in relation to computer use has been that of cognitive development and the affect of modern technology have on children’s minds. Are computers being used properly to enhance and hasten a child’s cognitive development, or are they just inhibiting intellectual growth in some way? Can technology support the specific needs of children, or does it take away from essential developmental experiences? These questions will remain unanswered until enough research and experiment has been done to prove their validity.

Knowledge of children’s development and studies of both children and technology use can steer understanding and inform decisions. Recent researches on brain development have focused their attention on the capabilities of young children, the stages and styles of learning, and social-emotional development. Such research has showed that although children may lack knowledge and experience, they have ample reasoning ability. Given the appropriate stimuli, such as close interaction with caring adults and engaging hands-on activities, enhancing brain development of a child dramatically is not unusual (Healy, 1998). A study by the National Research Council (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 1999) stated that “early learning is assisted by the supportive context of the family and the social environment, through the kinds of activities in which adults engage with children”.

The influence of the two most renowned learning theory of psychology: Piaget’s theory and Vygotsky’s constructivism theory, are evident in these recent researches, and it is in considering their models of development that we can make some assessment about the significance of a computer’s role in children’s learning. Much research has attempted to apply the developmental theories of Piaget to children’s computer usage. In considering the Piagetian tasks of classifying and categorization, (Healy,1999) has made some interesting observations about computers and cognitive development. She states that a child sorting grocery items in the kitchen is a sign of development (the difference between fruit and vegetables, household products and food; the different ways to sort these items, etc.). This three-dimensional, physical experience is qualitatively different from that of a child who is playing a categorization game on a computer. While both events may be helpful, too much substitution of icons for “touch and feel” physical learning leaves out something essential of a child’s development. Healy also asserted that playing interactive games with older children or adults are far more likely to enhance the brain development of children than time spent on computers, thus supporting the views of Vygotsky and Bruner in terms of peer interaction and scaffolding. Indeed, she stated that “the best result from all technology use for children comes accompanied by a skilled adult coach who adds language, empathy and flexibility.”

Not all researchers finds flaw in computer-assisted learning. There are numerous researchers that have found a lot of possible positive effects of computer use in aiding children to learn. For instance, one of the researcher stated “the relatively more