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Striking a Balance on Mobile Use

A new report out of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center finds prekindergarten and early-elementary students are capable of learning from applications on their parents' smartphones. The next the question its authors say they would love to answer is whether that is more effective or desirable than other methods of learning.

The findings, released Wednesday from the group that works out of the Sesame Workshop, also include that most children are capable of intuitively learning how to use their parents' mobile devices, but that their interest in educational apps can be fleeting.

As a result, the authors recommended educational mobile content be delivered in short bursts while balancing concepts with entertainment value, and that industry leaders move to establish best practices for when, where, and how mobile learning makes the most sense for young children.

"The question I still have is, 'As compared to what?'" said Michael Levine, the Cooney Center's executive director. "If I'm really making a choice between [my kids] playing 15-20 minutes on an educational app versus sitting down with me or Grandpa to read a book, what really is a more valuable expenditure of time?"

The report is broken into three portions. The first examines the implications of what it calls the "pass-back effect," where parents hand small children their smartphones as a means of keeping them entertained. The second assessed the results of three studies—one that determined the usability of mobile devices for young children, one that determined parents' attitudes toward their children using mobile devices, and one that studied the effectiveness of two educational apps for iPod touches. And the final portion assesses their results and recommends how to use mobile devices to best promote learning, as well as area where more research may be needed.

Some other interesting findings:
• Young children were found to most frequently use smartphones while traveling in the family vehicle.
• Young children showed a far more favorable rating of Apple's iPhone than other smartphones or a BlackBerry.
• Children reported that they used smartphones mainly for playing games, while parents who let children use their smartphones said children used the devices for a wider range of activities.

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