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How do kids and parents use educational media at home? Six insights. Six actions.

March 14, 2014

How do kids and parents use educational media at home? Six insights. Six actions.

It is no news that kids interact with a variety of media from a very young age. The people around them want what is best for the kids, and so the pressure for this media to be in some way beneficial or educational is extremely high. At the same time, the industry suffers from a lack of understanding of what being educational truly means and how parents and children consume this “education”. Shedding some much needed light into this area of thinking, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center recently published an insightful report looking into the educational media use in children’s households.

This research looked into the following topics, amongst others:

  • How much of the media consumed by kids is seen as educational,
  • On which platforms this consumption takes place,
  • In what scenarios and situations does the consumption take place, and
  • What are the parents’ perceptions of educational media.

I recommend that you read the entire report here, but below are some of the insights that I found most interesting. And just a word of warning before we start: the data is US-based, so put your US-hat on.

1. Parents think Mickey is educational, but Minecraft isn’t.
Invest in clarity when communicating educational benefits of your programmes

Parents were asked to rate some of the popular TV shows or games in terms of how educational they are. So, for example, 96% of parents consider Sesame Street to be very or somewhat educational, 73% consider Mickey Mouse Clubhouse to be so, whilst 27% feel the same way about Minecraft and only 11% about Angry Birds.

I would argue that Minecraft definitely has educational value, and the fact that it is being used in classrooms around the world testifies to that, but the perception of its educational qualities by parents clearly leaves something to be desired.

2. Educational media use declines with age. 
Invest in compelling, interesting resources for older children, too

The youngest group examined, 2-to-4 year olds, spend an average of 76 minutes per day on educational media. This drops to 50 minutes a day for 5-to-7 year olds, and 42 minutes a day for 8-to-10 year olds. This is especially significant in the light of the fact that total media time increases as kids get older. As toddlers, 78% of children’s total screen time is seen as educational by their parents, going down to 27% for 8-10 year olds.

This could be due to less compelling educational media choices available for these older age groups or greater competition for children’s time from other activities. But it could also be due to the fact that parents are not interpreting some of the activities of these older children as educational when they, in fact, are or could be. Educational outcomes for toddlers tend to be more obvious (ABCs, colours, shapes) whilst the tweens’ educational media may focus on softer skills or take a less obvious path to learning just like in the Minecraft example above.

In any case, this result is a call for producers to think about creating great educational content for the slightly older children or to work behind the scenes to make sure that parents are aware of the educational elements of experiences aimed at the older kid.

3. TV is king.
Keep producing quality educational content for television

On average, children aged 2-to-10 spend just under an hour a day (56 minutes) consuming educational screen media. This includes an average of 42 minutes of educational TV or DVDs, 5 minutes of educational games or computer software, 5 minutes of educational activities on mobile devices and 3 minutes of educational video games. It is very clear that most of the time is taken up by TV.

Additionally, television and DVDs are also the mediums that parents say deliver the highest proportion of educational content to their children. Parents report that more than half (52%) of children’s TV time is spent on educational programmes, but only 18% of the video games kids play are considered to be good for them. Could this be due the fact that cooperation and learning in video games happen through mechanics that we are less familiar with than the mechanics of cooperation and learning through TV? It is worth noting that parents are significantly more likely to co-view TV programmes than to co-play, which could explain their perception of TV versus their perception of games.

4. Lower-income kids are more frequent users of educational media.
Invest in initiatives which open up their access and provide compelling content

More than a third (35%) of children from lower-income families are daily viewers of educational TV, compared to 18% of those from higher-income families. Similarly, 12% of children from lower-income families are daily users of educational games on mobile devices, compared to 5% of children amongst higher-earning families.

This may reflect a difference in what the parents in different situations see as educational: lower-income parents were more likely to classify specific titles as being educational compared to the higher-income parents. But it could also be a reflection of lower-income parents’ efforts to find educational media for their children who may not have access to all the learning benefits that high-income can bring. All in all, the need to provide meaningful and high quality content to people of different backgrounds is an interesting implication of this research, and an important challenge for the industry.

5. Parents do not see digital media as a very important learning source. 
Clearly communicate benefits when they are there

One of the reasons why parents and children do not use screen media for learning is that these platforms are simply not seen as a learning resource. Parents were asked to think about the lessons their children most need to learn, and then rank the importance of various sources for learning those lessons. Parents themselves are at the top as the key learning source with 96% of parents considering them very important. They are followed by teachers (73%), siblings (69%), books (67%) and grandparents (61%). However, most parents don’t consider TV (6%) or interactive digital media (10%) to be a very important source of learning.

6. Discovery does not tend to be intentional. 
Develop resources, paths and advice for easy discovery

It seems that a lot of the parents’ educational media choices are not intentional. Mostly, they do not seek out this type of content. The most common way in which the parents who do use educational media find them is simply by coming across them while browsing (50%), or by following recommendations from teachers (40%).

We can do more to remind parents that the choices they make regarding their children’s media really do matter and get them the information they need. Organisations such as Common Sense Media, or reviews in quality press do great work in terms of informing parents of their options, but there are many others who need access to this kind of information and many more initiatives that we could take to provide it to them.


By Jelena Stosic

Image courtesy of JCarole

Back   |   Posted in: Audience insights

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