Are Those "Educational" Videos Really So Educational?

You may have heard the recent uproar about Baby Einstein's parent company, Disney, offering refunds on many of their DVDs after research has emerged that "educational" videos for infants and toddlers do live up to their claims. This comes after a growing number of research studies have shown little or no correlation between children's viewing of such videos and advances in language development. In fact, some research has shown delays in children's language development associated with viewing hours of children's videos. I blogged about this topic several months ago.

As with most research, however, the findings are not always clear cut. Many factors come into play with studies such as these. A new article in Child Development helped clarify some of the findings about children's videos and language development. Here's a quick review of the study:

- researchers studied 40 children ages 30-42 months. They compared the younger children (under 3 year of age) to the older ones (over 3 years of age)

- researchers compared two types of scenarios: (1) the child watching the video of an action word (verb) being demonstrated on-screen or (2) the child watching the video of an action word (verb) PLUS the action being demonstrated live by an adult

Here's what they found:

- children under 3 could not learn verbs from video alone but could learn them with added adult interaction

- by comparison, children over 3 were able to learn verbs from watching the video alone

Put simply, this study implies that "educational" videos meant to teach young children words (particularly verbs) are most likely not very effective for children under 3 years of age. The researchers point out that verbs are especially difficult for children to learn and so it's not surprising that it requires more adult interaction to learn them.

I found this study very helpful in clarifying why and under what circumstances videos are actually educational and when they probably are not. Instead of studying a variety of videos across different ages, this study was useful because it assessed a very specific type of language learning (i.e. verbs) by children in two different age groups. Clearly, more research is needed to help understand how and when videos may be educational for young children and when they are not. In the meantime, it's helpful to know that although your 2-year-old may enjoy those "educational" videos, they probably are not learning much from them.

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