From Research to Design: Perspectives on early years and digital technologies

S Eagle, A Manches, C O'Malley, L Plowman, RJ Sutherland

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


Introduction to paper 2: How might research on family reading practices inform the design of interactive digital resources for pre-school children? This paper is a think-piece based on the observation that both books and interactive digital technologies are objects which feature in the homes of many young children and are often thought of as having a particular role to play in preparing children for learning at school. It explores the potential links between research into children’s learning with books and the design of interactive digital technologies for use by young children in the home. Children’s earliest learning takes place through their experience of everyday life at home, a space in which even very young children are increasingly encountering digital technologies. To date, however, we know little about how these tools might support learning for very young children in the home. In contrast, children’s books have been with us for generations and early reading and literacy practices have been subject to significant research attention. For hundreds of years, printed language has been the form in which knowledge and ideas have been stored and distributed, so it is a given in today’s society both that reading and writing are essential for learning and that books and literacy materials are an important part of schooling. The importance of literacy in schooling and society as a whole underpins academic research into how children learn to read, research which includes studies of everyday practices in children’s homes with books and other printed material. Our suggestion in this piece, then, is that we might usefully draw on this longstanding research field examining how children learn with books and printed materials in the home to inform our thinking about how we might design digital technologies for young children’s learning in the home. This suggestion may meet with some surprise – how can we think of books and digital technologies in the same way? And yet, when we look at developments in the interface and design of digital technologies over the last three decades, it becomes clear that where computers were once simply programmable devices, they are now tools that we can easily use for all kinds of work and leisure activities: as well as for programming and mathematical tasks we use them for writing, designing, communicating, playing games and accessing information, and more. Ongoing developments with technologies frees us to use a working assumption that there is unlimited potential of form and purpose for which digital technologies can be used. At the same time, although the possibilities for interactive digital technologies may seem to be endless, experience has shown that new inventions and ways of using come not so much ‘out of the blue’ but emerge from an existing context. People always approach using new tools and technologies in the context of existing practices with older technologies. The way we use interactive digital technologies – to write and design, access information, communicate and play – builds on what we were already doing with pens and paper, libraries and encyclopaedias, telephones and games. Where we understand our existing practices well, we have a useful basis for thinking about what kind of new technologies we might develop and the ways in which they might change and potentially improve on what we were doing beforehand. As such, it is not hard to believe that there may be lessons from studies of family reading practices for designers and researchers of young children’s use of digital technology in the home for learning.
Translated title of the contributionFrom Research to Design: Perspectives on early years and digital technologies
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages44
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2008

Bibliographical note

Publisher: Futurelab


Dive into the research topics of 'From Research to Design: Perspectives on early years and digital technologies'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this