Solving the Screen Time Puzzle


Researchers have shown that children can apply the skills they learn on a tablet to the real world.

The research shows that when four to six-year-olds learn how to solve a puzzle using a tablet, they then apply this learning to the same puzzle in the physical world. The findings contradict most previous research and suggest that the real world skill learned by a child from a device depends on the actual game played.

Senior Research Fellow, Dr Jordy Kaufman, says the research highlighted the important role that games on touchscreen devices can have on a child’s development.

"Our research suggests that these kinds of 'replacement activities' can work just as well as the real thing, as kids seamlessly transferred what they learnt on the iPad to the physical versions," Dr Kaufman says.

"These results demonstrate that 'screen time' is not a useful umbrella phrase, as what children can obtain from different types of screen media will vary, and numerous factors can impact their learning outcomes," says researcher Dr Joanne Tarasuik. 

The study used the 'Tower of Hanoi' puzzle, which involves moving discs between pegs so that they line up in order on a different peg, using the smallest possible number of moves.

The children practiced the puzzle on a touchscreen app, or with a physical version using wooden pegs and discs. The researchers measured how many moves they took to complete it, and how long they spent doing it.

Some of the children practiced the puzzle several times on the tablet before trying it on the wooden version. This allowed the researchers to see if the kids' virtual practice could improve their skills in the physical world.

The children all needed a similar number of moves to complete the wooden puzzle, regardless of whether they had practiced using the virtual puzzle, the physical puzzle, or a combination of the two. From the first to final attempt at the puzzle, all the children also improved their speed. 

"We successfully replicated our previous findings that four to six-year-old children can apply knowledge of this puzzle from practice using a touchscreen device, to the physical version of the puzzle," says Dr. Tarasuik. "There was no evidence that children who practiced using the 3D puzzle performed any better on the final 3D trial than children who practiced using the 2D mode." 

“We would like these results to guide future research into how and what children of different developmental stages can learn via touchscreen technology, and then apply in the physical world." 

The research also found that the learning benefits of touchscreen practice did not require an initial exposure to the 3D version of the skill or puzzle. "Children could have never been exposed to a game of chess before. But if they learn to play it on a touch screen device then they may have no difficulty playing a physical version of the game," Dr. Tarasuik says.

StepUp Note

This research shows that, for one specific puzzle toy (the Tower of Hanoi), children ages 4 to 6 can practice solving this puzzle on a tablet, and that they can then transfer this learning to the physical toy. Problem-solving is a critical life skill. In the StepUp programs, children are always asked to “watch and learn, then think and do.” Given an onscreen 2D model of a coach showing how to do an exercise, the child must transfer this learning to their own 3D body space in order to match the coach’s model. During the Listen, Talk and Write activities, children practice handwriting in 3D space, then transfer this learning to 2D space. This flexible thinking helps children develop the problem-solving skills necessary for independent learners. StepUp's cloud-based programs enrich any PreK - Grade 2 curriculum. Try it free for 30 days!


Note by Nancy W Rowe, M.S., CCC/A

Reposted from Swinburne University of Technology.