Childhood in the digital age
Childhood in the digital age

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Childhood in the digital age

Week 1: How different is a digital childhood?


Childhood is a time of rapid change. Some of these changes are obvious, such as height gain, language ability and physical dexterity. Others are less obvious, such as how children make sense of the information in their environment. Social scientists try to understand every aspect of children’s development, including how children learn, think and interact with those around them, and how their personalities and temperaments emerge.

Watch the following video to get started.

Download this video clip.Video player: ou_futurelearn_21st_c_childhood_vid_1080.mp4
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Nathalia Gjersoe
How is digital technology changing childhood - and how can adults keep up? The entertainment and interactivity of tablets and smartphones has made them attractive to children. Touch-screen interfaces mean that digital technologies are now accessible for children as young as 3. But do children find digital technologies exciting for reasons beyond simple entertainment?
The amount of digital technology available to my young son is massively different to that in my own childhood. As both a parent and a psychologist, I’ve found it difficult to make sense of media reports and research findings in this controversial area. Is technology beneficial or detrimental to child development? Does screen time lead to increased distractibility, obesity and loneliness? Or does it offer opportunities for autonomy and experimentation beyond anything imagined when I was growing up?
As the generation gap widens between adults and children’s understanding of new technologies, how will we protect them from the risks while allowing them to benefit from the opportunities new technologies offer? Join in the discussion as we explore the different sides of this heated debate.
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In the video you heard from Dr Nathalia Gjersoe, developmental psychologist at the University of Bath, with a research interest in children’s cognitive development (as well as a mum herself).

The other authors are Professor Natalia Kucirkova, who is a researcher in early literacy, with a specific focus on the role of new technologies, shared book reading and personalisation, and John Oates, Professor of Developmental Psychology in the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies at The Open University.

To understand how children change and develop, their abilities are often judged against developmental milestones, such as steps in acquiring language (babbling, talking), cognition (thinking, reasoning, problem solving), motor coordination (crawling, walking) and social skills (identity, friendships, attachments).

The main questions asked in this course are how does digital technology influence the acquisition of these important skills and how does technology affect children’s physical, social and cognitive development and learning?

Activity 1

What do you think? How might technology hinder children’s physical, social and cognitive development, and how might it provide exciting opportunities for learning?

Make a note of you thoughts at the start of this course. Use a notebook or digital notepad that you can refer back to at a later date.


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