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Kids’ Learning from Screens

Published: November 3, 2023

Learning from screens scaled aspect ratio 1 1 Learning from screens

Kids always learn something from their interactions with the world, whether those experiences are digitally based or happen in real life. That’s why the often asked question of “do kids learn from screens” is actually misleading. The answer is always yes. Rather, the question should be, WHAT are kids learning from screens? And if content was designed specifically to teach something, is that actually what kids learn when they interact with the content?

Can kids learn educational content from media intentionally designed to be instructional?

There’s a lot we don’t know. Many technologies kids use today are new, and they continue to evolve. Yet, there is a good research base for learning from an older screen: television. And for the rest, we can make our best guesstimates based on the currently available research on learning from tech and on general child development.

Babies and toddlers have difficulty with screens

Kids under two seem to struggle to transfer what they see on a screen to real life, a finding that is often referred to as the video deficit. Content attempting to be educational and directed at kids that young is likely to not have the desired learning outcome.

In fact, there may be reasons to think that screen use in the baby and toddler years is harmful to development. This is mostly because of what’s commonly referred to as “time replacement,” in that time spent watching screens is time not spent doing other more useful or helpful activities like interacting with people and the physical world around them.

Educational screen media works best starting around three years of age

Rather, it’s at the preschool stage, or around 3 years of age, when most research finds evidence of kids learning academic and life skills from screens. When screen media is thoughtfully designed, preschoolers can learn all sorts of information including alphabet recognition, letter sounds, emotion recognition, problem solving, informational literacy, vocabulary, and a variety of math and science skills.

A few thoughts for older kids

Throughout the elementary school years and beyond, there’s more and more potential for kids learning educational content from technology. Learning content for these kids can veer away from teaching fundamental basic skills like ABCs and 123s. Instead, tech can be used as a tool to develop other kinds of skills, such as time management, goal setting, digital skills, or communication.

Optimize kids’ learning from screens with well-designed tech

Girl doing origami fish with color paper looking video on laptop, online workshop and distant education

Cute little elementary schoolgirl doing origami fish with folded color paper looking video on laptop, online workshop, kids at-home activity, creativity and distant education

Current research points to certain kinds of instructional approaches as more effective than others. These considerations include considering content, presentation, interactivity, and creativity.

For example, kids can learn content that’s purpose driven to teach specific skills like math, STEM, pre reading, certain life or social emotional skills. Learning is more likely for younger kids, when the presentation is slow, thoughtful, and deliberate. And all kids benefit when the presentation is engaging and interesting. Rather than relying on delivering material for passive learning, aim for interactivity. And keep kids engaged by presenting content in creative ways.



  • Is the content specifically designed for the right age and stage developmental level of the target audience?
  • Is it relevant and purpose driven?
  • Is it transferable off the screen?
  • Does it help kids support their interests or deepen their knowledge?



  • Is it accessible and easy to use?
  • Is it engaging enough to keep kids interested?



  • Are there opportunities for kids to actively participate in their experience?
  • Can older kids take a place in the driver’s seat and facilitate their own experience?
  • Can kids use the tool to enhance connection in positive ways? Possibilities will look different for kids of different ages, from video chatting with far away loved ones, to staying in touch with friends and being active in a local social group, to finding support from peers across the world.



  • Does it help kids think about content in new ways?
  • Is it a new or innovative way to approach content?
  • Does it allow older kids to produce rather than consume?

Kids’ learning from screens, beyond educational content

Kids' learning from screens

Great educational tech can inspire kids to learn new things, or learn in new ways. But well designed educational tech considers more than just what and whether kids learn the intended educational content. There needs to also be consideration of what else kids might learn from their tech-based interactions. It’s a big discussion, but here are some starters:

  • Messaging. All media and tech carries a message. What’s yours? Beyond educational material, kids will learn from who and what they see – and who and what they don’t see. How are you presenting material and what are the subtle cues that you may be sending?
  • Balance, balance, balance! Tech is an important part of everyone’s life in the 21st century. But tech can’t be everything. Overall, anything that encourages excessive or obsessive screen use is not good for kids’ well being. How does your product encourage kids to learn the importance of balance?
  • Role of caring adults. Parents and other adults have important roles to play as kids’ main points of reference. How does your product honor and include parents?