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The use of mobile technology at home (with children ages 0–5) and the use of mobile technology in preschool and elementary school — June 2016


Could you provide research on the use of mobile technology at home (with children ages 0–5), and the use of mobile technology in preschool and the early elementary grades?


We have prepared the following memo with references on the use of mobile technology and devices in early education, including children ages 0–5 and children in preschool and in early elementary grades. Citations include a link to a free online version, when available. All citations are accompanied by an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the author or publisher of the document. We have not done an evaluation of the methodological rigor of these resources, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

Bus, A. G., Takacs, Z. K., & Kegel, C. A. T. (2015). Affordances and limitations of electronic storybooks for young children’s emergent literacy. Developmental Review, 35, 79–97. Retrieved from's_emergent_literacy

Abstract: Stories presented on phones, tablets and e-readers now offer an alternative to print books. The fundamental challenge has become to specify when and for whom the manner in which children retain information from stories has been changed by electronic storybooks, for better and for worse. We review the effects of digitized presentations of narratives that include oral text as well as multimedia information sources (e.g., animations and other visual and sound effects, background music, hotspots, games, dictionaries) on children’s emergent literacy. Research on preschool and kindergarten children has revealed both positive and negative effects of electronic stories conditional upon whether materials are consistent with the way that the human information processing system works. Adding certain information to electronic storybooks can facilitate multimedia learning, especially in children at-risk for language or reading difficulty. Animated pictures, sometimes enriched with music and sound, that match the simultaneously presented story text, can help integrate nonverbal information and language and thus promote storage of those in memory. On the other hand, stories enhanced with hypermedia interactive features like games and “hotspots” may lead to poor performance on tests of vocabulary and story comprehension. Using those features necessitates task switching, and like multitasking in general, seems to cause cognitive overload. However, in accordance with differential susceptibility theory, well-designed technology-enhanced books may be particularly suited to improve learning conditions for vulnerable children and turn putative risk groups into successful learners. This new line of research may have far-reaching consequences for the use of technology-enhanced materials in education.

Brueck, J. S., & Lenhart, L. A. (2015). E-books and TPACK: What teachers need to know. Reading Teacher, 68(5), 373–376. Retrieved from

Abstract: Today’s tech savvy young learners are equipped with a variety of technological tools used as easily as pencils and paper. Many reach for the laptop first when it’s time to write or look for an ebook when it’s time to read. Ebooks are increasingly viewed as an appropriate source for literacy exposure to books and reading by parents and educators, as net sales revenue from ebooks surpassed hardcover books in the first quarter of 2012 (Boog, 2012). As educators consider adopting ebooks as instructional resources, we must consider how to effectively merge content, pedagogy and technology in the early literacy classroom. In this article we discuss the emerging role of ebook technology in early reading instruction, along with describing how the Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) framework (Mishra & Koehler, 2006) can assist teachers in understanding the dynamic relationship between content, pedagogy and technology in the literacy classroom.

Christakis, D. A. (2014). Interactive media use at younger than the age of 2 years: Time to rethink the American Academy of Pediatrics Guideline? JAMA Pediatrics, 168(5), 399–400. Retrieved from

Excerpt: In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reaffirmed its original statement on infants and media, leaving the 1999 recommendation essentially unchanged stating “we discourage the use of media by children under the age of two.” Although published in October 2011, the policy statement had been completed much earlier owing to the lengthy internal review process of the AAP. The timing is notable because the iPad debuted in April 2010, meaning that the statement was drafted with no knowledge that such a device would ever exist. Now, 3 years later, we still know surprisingly little about how iPads and other interactive media technologies affect children’s cognition—research is simply unable to keep up with the pace of technological advances—and these devices are increasingly popular. The salient question then is whether the discourage media verbiage of the 2011 statement should be applied to them.

Ciampa, K., & Gallagher, T. L. (2013). Getting in touch: Use of mobile devices in the elementary classroom. Computers in the Schools, 30(4), 309–328. Retrieved from

Abstract: In this single-case study, we examined the perceived influence of school-wide Apple iPod Touch integration on student learning and engagement. Data collection consisted of elementary teacher and principal interviews, as well as parent surveys. Findings revealed that there was a marked shift in teachers’ and students’ perceived roles when the iPod Touch was used. Consistent with current pedagogical practices, the findings also suggested that mobile technology facilitated self-directed learning, peer mentoring, differentiated instruction, and formative assessment, and enhanced student engagement. Caveats are offered regarding the integration of these mobile devices into K–8 schools and the use of the iPod Touch as a way to extend the support of learning beyond the classroom.

Crompton, H., Burke, D., Gregory, K. H., & Grabe, C. (2016). The use of mobile learning in science: A systematic review. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 25, 149–160. Retrieved from

Abstract: The use of mobile learning in education is growing at an exponential rate. To best understand how mobile learning is being used, it is crucial to gain a collective understanding of the research that has taken place. This systematic review reveals the trends in mobile learning in science with a comprehensive analysis and synthesis of studies from the year 2000 onward. Major findings include that most of the studies focused on designing systems for mobile learning, followed by a combination of evaluating the effects of mobile learning and investigating the affective domain during mobile learning. The majority of the studies were conducted in the area of life sciences in informal, elementary (5–11 years) settings. Mobile devices were used in this strand of science easily within informal environments with real-world connections. A variety of research methods were employed, providing a rich research perspective. As the use of mobile learning continues to grow, further research regarding the use of mobile technologies in all areas and levels of science learning will help science educators to expand their ability to embrace these technologies.

Guernsey, L. (2012). Technology in early education: Building platforms for connections and content that strengthen families and promote success in school. The progress of education reform. Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States, ECS Distribution Center. Retrieved from

Abstract: Touch-screen technologies, on-demand multimedia, and mobile devices are prompting a rethinking of education. In a world of increasing fiscal constraints, state leaders are under pressure to capitalize on these new technologies to improve productivity and help students excel. The task is daunting across the education spectrum, but for those in early education (birth through 3rd grade), it is harder still. Until recently, most educators envisioned early learning as story time and hands-on activities with no technology in sight. Yet electronic media use among young children is growing, as are new digital divides between rich and poor, rural, and urban. Tech-savvy educators are incorporating technology in early learning lessons and experimenting with new channels of communication between parents and colleagues. A red-hot ed-tech marketplace is also creating a feeling of urgency among decision-makers in state agencies and local school districts who are at risk of spending public dollars on products that sit unused, lock districts into specific brands or platforms, or get in the way of promoting the positive, face-to-face interactions with adults that young children need. How to ensure thoughtful adoption? State leaders will need to encourage collaboration across many sectors that typically sit in silos, including school districts, early learning programs, libraries, museums, afterschool programs, adult education, and health services. Research centers and post-secondary institutions will need to provide insights and expertise to support this collaboration while also preparing a next-generation workforce to execute it. This issue of “The Progress of Education Reform” looks at technology and how it has an essential role to play as a connector and content disseminator in the service of these collaborations—and ultimately in service of the families who are setting the foundation for their children’s success in school and life.

Ihmeideh, F. M. (2014). The effect of electronic books on enhancing emergent literacy skills of pre-school children. Computers & Education, 79, 40–48. Retrieved from

Abstract: The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of e-books on enhancing Jordanian preschool children’s emergent literacy skills (experimental group), in comparison to children who were exposed to regular printed books (control group). To achieve the objectives of this study, the total of 92 children were assigned to either experimental group (n = 48) and control group (n = 44). The pre- and post-test data was collected on print awareness, vocabulary, alphabetic knowledge and phonological awareness skills to determine the effectiveness of e-books. The results indicated that children in experimental group performed significantly better than the children in control group. Moreover, significant differences were found according to gender, as the female children exhibited superior emergent literacy skills to the male children. Regarding the different emergent literacy skills, children in the experimental group achieved better improvement in the areas of print awareness and vocabulary. Based on these findings, it is recommended that pre-school institutions incorporate e-books activities into their classrooms.

Jere-Folotiya, J., Chansa-Kabali, T., Munachaka, J. C., Sampa, F., Yalukanda, C., Westerholm, J., & Lyytinen, H. (2014). The effect of using a mobile literacy game to improve literacy levels of grade one students in Zambian schools. Educational Technology Research and Development, 62(4), 417–436. Retrieved from

Abstract: This intervention study was conducted to document conditions under which a computer based literacy game (GraphoGameTM) could enhance literacy skills of first grade students in an African city. The participants were first grade students from Government schools (N = 573). These students were randomly sampled into control (N = 314) and various intervention groups (N = 259). GraphoGameTM was administered on cellphones to students at their schools under supervision. Each student in the study was assessed using a battery of locally developed cognitive tests that measured emergent literacy skills (Orthography test), decoding competence (Spelling test), vocabulary (Picture Vocabulary Test-PVT) and arithmetic (Zambia Achievement Test-ZAT). There was a positive effect of the game for the Spelling test—which closely targeted the skill GraphoGameTM is designed to promote. The most effective intervention combined exposure of both the teachers and the students to the game. Initial letter knowledge was a good predictor of final letter knowledge on GraphoGameTM.

REL West note: This is an international study. Considering its subject is relevant to your request, we included it here for your information.

Korat, O., & Or, T. (2010). How new technology influences parent–child interaction: The case of e-book reading. First Language, 30(2), 139–154. Retrieved from

Abstract: This article reports on a study focusing on mother–child interactions during e-book reading compared to print book reading. Two different types of e-books were used, commercial and educational. Forty-eight kindergarten children and their mothers were assigned randomly to one of four groups, reading: (1) the printed book Just grandma and me; (2) the electronic commercial book Just grandma and me; (3) the printed book The tractor in the sandbox; and (4) the electronic-educational book The tractor in the sandbox. Compared to the printed book reading, e-book reading yielded more discourse initiated by the child and more responsiveness to maternal initiations. Printed book reading yielded more initiations and responses of mothers. Discourse during printed book reading compared to the digital context showed more expanding talk. Educational e-book reading showed more word meaning than reading the commercial e-book. The study concludes that different reading contexts influence adult–child interactions, and this may in return have different effects on children’s early literacy development.

Korkeamaki, R., Dreher, M. J., & Pekkarinen, A. (2012). Finnish preschool and first-grade children’s use of media at home. Human Technology: An Interdisciplinary Journal on Humans in ICT Environments, 8(2), 109–132. Retrieved from

Abstract: We investigated Finnish children’s use of print and electronic media in the home and their literacy development. Questionnaire data from 857 parents of preschoolers (collected in 2006 and 2007) and first graders (2008) showed that homes were well equipped with electronic media including Internet access in almost every home, although only a third of the children used the Internet. Television, print media, and videos/DVDs were more commonly used than computers. Most first graders but few preschoolers had mobile phones. Most parents read bedtime stories, had a sizable number of children’s books, and library visits were common. Boys ? and girls’ skills in reading did not differ at the beginning of their preschool year. But girls showed more interest in writing while boys played more console and computer-based games. Most first graders were reading early in the school year, suggesting that electronic media are not harmful but may even support literacy development.

REL West note: This is an international study. Considering its subject is relevant to your request, we included it here for your information.

Moody, A. K., Justice, L. M., & Cabell, S. Q. (2010). Electronic versus traditional storybooks: Relative influence on preschool children’s engagement and communication. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 10(3), 294–313. Retrieved from

Abstract: The purpose of this study was to examine children’s reading engagement and communicative initiations when they were read storybooks in varying media and reading manners, with a focus on understanding the way electronic storybooks (e-storybooks) may affect young children’s shared reading experiences. The reading behaviors of 25 preschool-aged children were observed during three storybook reading conditions: adult led e-storybook, child led e-storybook, and adult led traditional storybook. Children’s level of reading engagement and type and quantity of communicative initiations were analyzed. Findings showed that when comparing media, children displayed higher levels of persistence during the adult led e-storybook compared to the adult led traditional storybook condition. However, children produced more communicative initiations during the adult led traditional storybook condition. When comparing the reading manner between adult and child led e-storybook conditions, more labelling references were observed during the adult led condition. Results suggested that both media and manner matter.

National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). (2012). Technology and interactive media as tools in early childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from

Excerpt: Technology and interactive media are tools that can promote effective learning and development when they are used intentionally by early childhood educators, within the framework of developmentally appropriate practice, to support learning goals established for individual children. The framework of developmentally appropriate practice begins with knowledge about what children of the age and developmental status represented in a particular group are typically like. This knowledge provides a general idea of the activities, routines, interactions, and curriculum that should be effective. Each child in the particular group is then considered both as an individual and within the context of that child’s specific family, community, culture, linguistic norms, social group, past experience (including learning and behavior), and current circumstances. Children’s experiences with technology and interactive media are increasingly part of the context of their lives, which must be considered as part of the developmentally appropriate framework. To make informed decisions regarding the intentional use of technology and interactive media in ways that support children’s learning and development, early childhood teachers and staff need information and resources on the nature of these tools and the implications of their use with children. NAEYC and the Fred Rogers Center offer the following principles to guide the use of technology and interactive media in early childhood programs.

Radesky, J. S., Schumacher, J., & Zuckerman, B. (2015). Mobile and interactive media use by young children: The good, the bad, and the unknown. Pediatrics, 135(1), 1–3. Retrieved from

Abstract: The use of interactive screen media such as smartphones and tablets by young children is increasing rapidly. However, research regarding the impact of this portable and instantly accessible source of screen time on learning, behavior, and family dynamics has lagged considerably behind its rate of adoption. Pediatric guidelines specifically regarding mobile device use by young children have not yet been formulated, other than recent suggestions that a limited amount of educational interactive media use may be acceptable for children aged <2 years. New guidance is needed because mobile media differs from television in its multiple modalities (e.g., videos, games, educational apps), interactive capabilities, and near ubiquity in children’s lives. Recommendations for use by infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children are especially crucial, because effects of screen time are potentially more pronounced in this group. The aim of this commentary is to review the existing literature, discuss future research directions, and suggest preliminary guidance for families.

Smeets, D. J. H., & Bus, A. G. (2015). The interactive animated e-book as a word learning device for kindergartners. Applied Psycholinguistics, 36(4), 899–920. Retrieved from

Abstract: Electronic picture storybooks often include motion pictures, sounds, and background music instead of static pictures, and hotspots that label/define words when clicked on. The current study was designed to examine whether these additional elements aid word learning and story comprehension and whether effects accumulate making the animated e-book that also includes hotspots the most promising device. A sample group of 136 4- and 5-year-old kindergarten children were randomly assigned to one of four conditions: static e-books, animated e-books, interactive animated e-books, and a control group. In experimental conditions, four on-screen stories were each presented four times during a 4-week intervention period. Children in the control condition played nonliteracy related computer games during the same time. In all conditions, children worked independently with the computer programs. Strong treatment effects were found on target vocabulary originating from the story. Pupils gained most in vocabulary after reading interactive animated e-books, followed by (noninteractive) animated e-books and then static e-books. E-books including animations and interactivity were neither beneficial nor detrimental for story comprehension. Findings suggest that electronic storybooks are valuable additions in support of the classroom curriculum with interactive animated e-books being the best alternative.

REL West note: This is an international study. Considering its subject is relevant to your request, we included it here for your information.

Willoughby, D., Evans, M. A., & Nowak, S. (2015). Do ABC eBooks boost engagement and learning in preschoolers? An experimental study comparing eBooks with paper ABC and storybook controls. Computers & Education, 82, 107–117. Retrieved from

Abstract: Alphabet books are an important instructional text used in early education. Advances in mobile technology have led to alphabet books of an electronic format with accompanying sound, animations, and interactive hot spots. This study investigates the differential effectiveness of paper alphabet books and alphabet eBooks in training alphabetic knowledge in 4-year-olds. Three groups of approximately 30 children were assigned to one of three conditions: paper alphabet book, alphabet eBook, or storybook control. Book reading sessions composed of three to four children were run twice a week over eight weeks, with child-book behaviors coded at each session. Measures of early reading ability were collected pre and post-intervention. Children in all conditions improved over time in emergent literacy but no significant differences between conditions were found. Children using paper alphabet books were more likely to say letter names, and their time oriented to the books predicted post-test letter-name and phonological awareness after controlling for pre-test scores. In contrast, time oriented to the alphabet eBooks made no prediction to post-test scores.


Keywords and Search Strings Used in the Search

(“birth/0 to 5” OR “preschool” OR “prekindergarten” OR “early education” OR “early grades”) AND (“mobile technology” OR “mobile devices” OR “interactive media”)

Search of Databases

EBSCO Host, ERIC, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, Google, and Google Scholar

Criteria for Inclusion

When REL West staff review resources, they consider—among other things—four factors:

  • Date of the Publication: The most current information is included, except in the case of nationally known seminal resources.
  • Source and Funder of the Report/Study/Brief/Article: Priority is given to IES, nationally funded, and certain other vetted sources known for strict attention to research protocols.
  • Methodology: Sources include randomized controlled trial studies, surveys, self-assessments, literature reviews, and policy briefs. Priority for inclusion generally is given to randomized controlled trial study findings, but the reader should note at least the following factors when basing decisions on these resources: numbers of participants (Just a few? Thousands?); selection (Did the participants volunteer for the study or were they chosen?); representation (Were findings generalized from a homogeneous or a diverse pool of participants? Was the study sample representative of the population as a whole?).
  • Existing Knowledge Base: Although we strive to include vetted resources, there are times when the research base is limited or nonexistent. In these cases, we have included the best resources we could find, which may include newspaper articles, interviews with content specialists, organization websites, and other sources.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educators and policymakers in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West (REL West) at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-12-C-0002, administered by WestEd. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.