Computers,Kids And Learning

By Faisal Hussain

The phrase "Computer aided instruction" has come to mean using the computer to teach the child. Most people's perceptition is that the computer is being used to program the child. I reality what is happening is that the child is in fact programming the computer and therefore mastering and controlling the most modern and powerful piece of technology.

The child is given access to a huge amount of information and some of the deepest ideas from science. One has to ask, how fast can a child pick up these ideas and learn them , for use throughout his/her life. It would be useful to accuire some information on how children learn, so that parents can help their child get the most out of his/her ability and skills

Programmed learning.

Psychologists have quite a few different ideas on what works best to aid learning concerning a child. The most common technique is that of 'programmed learning', where a child fed information by some teacher(eg. parent) alone, and told to reproduce material learned at a later date. For example he/she may be taught some program, which is a useful tool on their home computer.

Two psychologists "E.L.Thorndike" and "B.F.Skinner" both developed ideas on a special theory, in the 1930's, of learning called 'Operant conditiong$ Basically the theory stated that children learn more quickly if they are rewarded in some way for making progress or a correct decision. Although they mainly carried out experiments on animals, their theories were extended to accomodate humans aswell. An experiment of Skinner's is now considered and extended to comparisons to children.

Case Study By "B.F.Skinner".

"...a rat is placed into a box. Because it is hungry, it wanders around the box. As it wanders, at some point it accidently presses some lever, and a pellet of food is delivered to the rat. Often the rat does not find the food immediately, but does eventually. Very gradually the rat builds up a connection between pressing the lever and getting the food reward. When the animal is pressing the lever frequently and examining the area where the food is delivered, then we know that it has learned the activity."

The pellet to the rat is a reward, because the rat is hungry. Skinner referred to this as an example of 'positive reinforcement', something which strengthens the response which we want to happen. For example, if a child is drawing a picture and is immeadiately praised for that activity, then one is strengthening the behaviour the child is showing. By Skinner's theory, the child is more likely to repeat the activity again, so that if a child is playing with some kind of educational package at home on his/her computer (eg. An art or drawing package) and encouraged and praised for their ideas and work, then he/she is more likely to engage in that activity again.

In addition to the above, there is also 'Negative reinforcement', best described by example. If a child is experimenting using the home computer and due to some command entered, he/she causes the computer to "crash", then he/she will learn very quickly not to make the same "mistake" again and so will avoid typing that command in that situation again. We can see that if a child is given access to alot of educational information on the home computerthen he/she will pick up alot of this very quickly and develop techniques of using such a tool effectively and creatively with just a little encouragement and alot of praise and help.

Discovery Learning.

Another theory on child learning is one proposed by "J.Bruner" and several other theorists. They held the view that children learn best through interaction and involvement in whatever they are learning. Bruner did many experiments in schools and his results showed that do learn well together as a group.This does not mean in a classroom with teacher talking to class, but actually requires the child to talk to other students, produce ideas, make decisions and his/her own conclusions. This technique called 'Discovery learning' works on the principle that children LIKE finding things out, for example in the completion of some adventure game, the child is intrigued and wants to carry on playing/learning.

Although both theories are different, they may both have a place and be complimentary to each other. Afterall, the mass, and kinds of things children are required to learn generally are often quite different. Some subjects may be better for 'Discovery learning' methods, whilst others may be better for a 'Programmed learning' approach.

To conclude, can one say for definite that is a child with a home computer actually benefitting from learning all these skills or would being without it be of any consequence?A Study was carried out at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, which investigated the changes in attitudes of Japanese first and second-grade children who were exposed to microcomputers. This study showed that children who use computers tend to like them more than children who don't use computers. Findings also showed that the use of computers has no negative effect on the children`s empathy. Findings failed to provide evidence that computer use improves intellectual activities such as creativity and desire to study.


  • Journal of Computing in Childhood Education Vol:5 Iss:1 1994
  • S.A Papert "Uses of Computers to Advance Education", MIT , A-I-Memo #298 ( Cambridge 1973)
  • "A First Course In Psychology" By Nicky Hayes.