Should we give children more choice over how they learn digitally?

Asking a child if they’d prefer an apple or a banana can determine their personality.

I’m not saying we live in a world where we’re creating apple kids and banana kids. It’s not the end decision that counts, but the existence of choice. According to developmental psychologist Erik Erikson (1963), giving choice to children as young as two ensures they feel a sense of control. This means our apple and banana kids can grow up into children with healthy personalities— whilst getting one of their five a day.

The Children’s Media Summit Manchester 2017 brought together people with a collective desire to empower, entertain and educate children through media and technology. Curated by the BBC, the profound effect of technology on our children’s education was a strong theme, one supported by its incredible speakers. Tony Hall’s acknowledgement of digital’s “incredible breadth of choice” gave a nod to the endless possibilities that can allow our young audiences to learn differently.

As speaker David Coplin, Chief Officer of The Envisoners put it quite simply, “The future is not linear”. Nor are our children– they are chaotic, playful and experimental. We want to nurture these inherent qualities to ensure their learning and growth. However, Dave’s concerns that our current education system still functions on Victorian teaching principles evoked a hunger for change. With access to technology, we shouldn’t be repressing it, but using it to prepare our children for the future.

Working in technology, sometimes we all question whether we’re really allowed to call what we do “work” — am I right? But we can also agree it can be difficult a lot of the time too. But that’s why we love what we do. Gonzalo Frasca, Designer of algebra game DragonBox defined fun as a “product of challenge”. He found that challenging children through gamification not only built up a resistance to fears of algebra, but also improved mathematical ability considerably. Children learnt by discovery, practice and assessment– the interesting phase being discovery. Discovery gives children the ability to choose their own processes to find solutions.

Children are curious by nature. Give a child that has not yet learned to read or write a tablet and still expect your Youtube history to soar. Discovery through personalisation is at the forefront of BBC’s priorities for 2018– our Tony himself referring to our aim for children to discover content that continually stimulates their minds. When asked what the future of children’s TV holds, Chris Williams, Chief Executive Officer of Pocket Watch called for us to “reinvent TV from its linear format” and to be more in line with children’s watching habits. Michelle Guthrie, Managing Director of ABC alluded to giving children greater control of their content by “allowing children to schedule their own TV”. Returning to Erik Erikson’s findings, control helps to build a child’s character.

Dave Coplin quashed our fears of AI taking over the world with his example of the prediction of “autonomous” cars by 2070. But yet, these cars are not entirely self-sufficient as humans are needed to maintain them.

We might wish for our children to become more autonomous learners and make their own decisions, but they still need our guidance. The value to give children freedom of choice in a safe environment came up again and again throughout the day. Just as children are still learning, we are still learning about technology.

We must continue to educate ourselves so we can keep children safe online, whilst enriching their learning with an entire fruit salad of choice.

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