Early Years and Digital Technologies: Research

In our diocese we are working with our schools on how technology should be used. We have started a rationale on why technology is important in early years (see below). This will then lead on to why the iPad is the preferred device.

The nature and needs of the early learner have long been identified as unique, representing an exciting and powerful opportunity for those working closely with young children. With an image of our Early Years learners as diverse, curious and capable thinkers, it is important for us as educators to recognise the digital context in which they currently grow and develop (Early Learning Statement - Diocese of Lismore). Although their experiences may vary in regards to their exposure and engagement with the world of digital technologies, it must be acknowledged that they are living in a world where communication, collaboration and exploration are all influenced, enhanced and supported by the effective integration of digital technologies into all areas of learning.

The LEGO Foundation research Children, Technology and Play (Marsh, J. et.al. 2020) outlined that engagement with digital technologies in a way that is joyful, socially interactive, actively engaging, meaningful and iterative, resulted in significant development in the three key areas of holistic skills, digital skills, including digital citizenship, and subject knowledge. Our role as educators therefore is to be in a state of regular professional reflection on the role and optimal use of digital technologies with, by and for young children, according to the digital contexts in which our young learners and their families play, live and work (Edwards, Straker & Oakey, 2018. ECA Statement on Young Children and Digital Technologies). It is imperative that we, as the educators who are providing a continuity of learning from early childhood education settings into the primary school learning environment, are ensuring that childrens’ engagement with the skills and concepts of Digital Technologies moves beyond mastering a range of ICT skills, to utilising a range of digital technology equipment to enhance meaning making, creative and critical thinking and problem solving.

As outlined in both the Early Years Learning Framework and the Australian Curriculum for NSW, digital technologies have become a key element of pedagogy that promotes young children’s exploration, social interaction, collaboration and learning in digital contexts. When designing learning experiences for students, educators should consider quality, over quantity, with a focus on encouraging creators of digital technologies, rather than consumers. As outlined in Taren SandersParkerPozo-CruzNoetel & Lonsdale (2019), the effects of extended periods of ‘screen time’ on children’s outcomes appear to be moderated by the quality of the screen time. When educators use digital technologies ‘as a tool to harness inquiry, creativity, imagination and play’ (Robinson & Kennedy, 2019), the research results have been shown to display higher levels of engagement, more efficient means of conducting work for both teachers and students, higher academic performance, greater access to support for children who need it, greater access to information and an improved ability for teachers to differentiate effectively’ (Adelantado-Renau et al., 2019; Madigan et al., 2020; Aust et al., 2019).

It is therefore, important for us then to consider the rich use of Digital Technologies in the early years learning environment, not as a set of skills that they need to master for the future, but as yet another tool in our pedagogical toolkit to build upon the natural creativity and curiosity that our early learners transition into our schools with.

How are is your school approaching Digital Technologies and Early Years?

All Comments

Posted on November 28, 2022

This is very encouraging research on the importance of digital access for creative learning. Thanks for sharing, JJ. Although I work with high school learners and teachers it certainly applies. And it is wonderful when students reach the high school level and are well versed in digital technologies.

Posted on December 02, 2022

Really appreciate they way you've synthesized the research here, JJ! I don't work with early learners, but we certainly try to share this context and vision for learning with our preservice teachers who are preparing to enter their own classrooms. Rather than focusing on "preparing students for the future" of tech, it can be a helpful reframing to think about how we are helping students learn more effectively in the present moment through our pedagogical applications of technology.

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