Are computer-supported literacy interventions effective for young children?

Are computer-supported literacy interventions effective for young children?

By Qiyang Zhang, Johns Hopkins University

Computer-assisted learning (CAL) is gaining popularity due to its promise of cost-effectiveness, individualized approach, and enhanced engagement. However, before incorporating CAL in traditional classrooms, it is important to understand the effectiveness of CAL. Recent research, published in Educational Research Review, presents a meta-analysis on computer-supported early literacy interventions in preschool and kindergarten settings to provide some insights into the overall effect and determinants of CAL.

Including only randomized trials and quasi-experimental designs, Ludo Verhoeven and his colleagues selected 59 qualified and rigorous studies, which involved a total of 6786 preschool and kindergarten students. The outcomes of interest were children’s phonological awareness and reading-related skills in alphabetic languages. Statistical analysis showed that computer-supported early literacy interventions, on average, had small but positive and statistically important effects on learning outcomes (ES = +0.28, 95% CI [0.21, 0.35]). This effect size was smaller than those found in previous meta-analyses that investigated teacher-supported early literacy interventions, which lends evidence to a plausible conclusion that teachers are more effective than computers in enhancing literacy skills in early childhood development.

Moreover, effect sizes in different studies vary widely, ranging from -0.92 to +2.10. A closer look at moderators of the treatment effects reveals that integrated learning systems increase children’s phonological awareness greatly. The authors recommend that schools integrate curriculum with technology-enhanced early literacy interventions to produce better outcomes. Lastly, effect sizes were larger in quasi-experimental studies compared to randomized trials, demonstrating that more rigorous methods give smaller effect sizes.

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