There exists much debate about the effects of digital technology environments on children. The study aimed to determine whether or not the use of an educational app can positively impact preschoolers’ attention development.

A connection to the Theory of Multiple Intelligence 

Howard Gardner’s widely embraced Theory of Multiple Intelligences, though a subject of much criticism, might provide a valuable segue into how technological classrooms adopt similar scaffolds for encouraging diversity in the varying degrees of student strengths, development rates, and preferences for learning. Further, there continues to be mounting evidence for how gamification elements might serve to motivate and engage learners. Elements leading to this success are clearly stated goals, self-choice, and immediate feedback. Gamification allows for all three.

Neumann & Neumann (2013) suggest how previous studies’ conclusions on computer-based tasks, serious video games, or digital cognitive training games can be used as scaffolding tools to assist with children’s cognitive development.

Developing sustained attention in children

171 children between the ages of 3 and 4 years old were divided into experimental and control groups for a quasi-experimental study. The children were all from a northern city in China and the income and parents’ education levels from the school were in the average range of the city.  The experimental group used an educational tablet app twice a week for 12 weeks in an effort to examine their sustained attention and attention orientation speed. Building on previous findings, educational digital apps could promote attention development in young children. The researchers believe their first hypothesis was proven, that tablet training with an educational app can foster sustained attention development in young children. However, their second hypothesis two – that tablet training with an educational app could accelerate young children’s attention orientation development – was inconclusive.

Sustained, but not gained

The results indicated that children in the experimental group had significantly longer fixation duration than that of the control group after 12 weeks of training using the app. However, the results did not provide evidence for accelerating the children’s orientation development. According to the study, attention in young children can be sustained but not necessarily gained from the use of technology apps. Yet, the researchers believe the outcomes show how educational game-based tablet apps lead to positive attention development in young children. The results of the study serve to reinforce previous research that children as young as 4 years old can have improvements in sustained attention with intervention.   

Aside from limiting media usage, a suggestion for practice is allowing students to complete one task before moving on to another. This requires setting up an expectation for how many tasks, activities, or games children are engaged with, as this will allow for greater ease in student completion.

Notable Quotes: 

“The study suggests more collaboration between educational organizations and software companies to create appropriate educational apps with built-in, routine school activities, and appropriate features for preschool students to operate, play, learn, and practice.”

“The main purpose of the study is to examine the effect of using an educational serious game in preschools on young children’s attention development. A preschool classroom has an environment full of visual, aural, or other distractions. Many empirical studies (Axelsson et al., 2016; Del Moral et al., 2015; Falloon, 2013; Neumann, 2014, 2018; Ramos & Melo, 2018; Walczak & Taylor, 2018) proceed with cognition, literacy, numeracy, and other digital interventions in school or classroom environments for the best ecological validity.“

“On the basis of the feedback from classroom teachers and children, a qualified, children-friendly app can play an important role in young children’s learning process… This implies that the school and the government should establish appropriate tablet- assisted educational serious game learning activities in preschool curricula. However, factors such as age, settings, children’s development level, teacher’s familiarity on an app content, and features have to be considered in the introduction of new technology. This requires evaluations and personal use experiences from educators and practitioners.”

Personal Takeaway

As an educator, the one element in the study that resonated most was the need for diversification of methods for how students might access learning. The tablet app provided for a range of activities, including video, drawings, nursery rhymes, and games versus a more traditional approach. Though evidence continues to be compiled for the positive effects of technology, the authors indicated how technology should be intentionally used and in balance. This aligns with my experiences in the classroom but also with years as a boarding school faculty house parent. The nature of this research centering on such young children and the introduction of technology only emphasizes the gravitas of intentionality


Matt Piercy

Summarized Article:

Wen Liu, Liting Tan, Dan Huang, Nan Chen & Fang Liu (2021) When Preschoolers Use Tablets: The Effect of Educational Serious Games on Children’s Attention Development, International Journal of Human–Computer Interaction, 37:3, 234-248, DOI: 10.1080/10447318.2020.1818999

The purpose of the study was to examine the current literature on the use of digital Game-Based Learning (GBL) for students with intellectual disabilities. The authors’ intent was to come to conclusions on how digital GBL affects the acquisition of specific skills and make recommendations on future research.

Definitions around Game-Based Learning

1. “Learning based on digital games can help students with intellectual disabilities to learn new data, learn and develop new skills, acquire life skills, develop social skills and form a way of thinking (Sigh & Agarwal, 2013). A game acts on a student through a biological, social, cultural, emotional (affective), cognitive and physical aspect and as such has a direct influence on behavior, way of thinking and perception of the world in which an individual lives and acts (Sigh & Agarwal, 2013).”

2. The authors differentiate between “educational games” (EG) and “serious games” (SG). Educational games refer to those that utilize software with game technologies and storytelling to create educational content. According to the authors, they are primarily used for the acquisition of factual information. Serious games, on the other hand, are those that reapply resources from the video game field for educational purposes. They are typically high in entertainment factor, and embed instructional content within gaming elements such as badges, levels and time-restricted challenges.  

3. The DSM-V now defines intellectual disability as deficits in “reasoning, problem solving, planning, abstract thinking, judgment, academic learning, and learning from experience”. Compared to the DSM-IV, the new edition favors comprehensive assessment based on adaptive functioning over standardized IQ scores.

Adaptive function over intellectual function

The authors of the study established the following research questions for their literature review:

1. Which specific technologies and games are used for digital GBL for students with intellectual disabilities? 

2. For which skills, abilities and subjects are the games being developed?

3. What are the characteristics of the participants in the studies, and which evaluation methods are being used to evaluate the effects of the games?

4. Do the digital GBL systems being developed have a positive impact on students with disabilities?

Only studies involving participants who have intellectual disability as a primary disability (as opposed to those who have intellectual disability as a result of other primary difficulties) were considered. 21 papers met the inclusion and exclusion criteria. According to the classifications set forth by the authors, the most common type of digital tool being used were SGs, and the most commonly used technology was the PC, along with additional equipment such as a webcam. The analyzed studies were more focused on the development of adaptive functions rather than on the development of intellectual functions. Math was the most commonly taught subject area. 15 of the 21 studies showed how the digital GBL was evaluated (the remaining 6 did not, partly because some of the game solutions were in the development or evaluation phases). These studies concluded that digital GBL contributed positively to the participants’ ability to adopt new skills.

Future inclusion of social-emotional skills

Future research could be directed towards developing a framework for the evaluation of digital educational games for students with intellectual disabilities, using a systematic and flexible methodology called Design-Based Research. 

Social-emotional skills were not covered in any of the research studies that were examined. The authors also suggest that a possible area for further development would be digital GBL for students with intellectual disabilities that focuses on recognizing and understanding emotions in others, empathizing, learning how to express feelings appropriately and establish relationships with other people.

Notable Quotes: 

1. “Learning based on digital games can help students with intellectual disabilities to learn new data, learn and develop new skills, acquire life skills, develop social skills and form a way of thinking (Sigh & Agarwal, 2013). A game acts on a student through a biological, social, cultural, emotional (affective), cognitive and physical aspect and as such has a direct influence on behavior, way of thinking and perception of the world in which an individual lives and acts (Sigh & Agarwal, 2013).”

2. “One of the possible further directions of research in this area is to create a frame- work for the evaluation of educational game solutions designed for students with intellectual disabilities using Design-based Research (DBR). DBR can be specified as a systematic but flexible research methodology which strives to improve the educational practice through iterative analysis, design, development and implementation (Wang & Hannafin, 2005). It is based on collaboration between researchers and professionals which leads to contextually sensitive principles of design and theories. DBR is an iterative process which allows the correction and improvement of solutions as many times as needed in order to satisfy all needs of the student.”

3. “The most common teaching subject is mathematics, which is in some studies combined with physical education and reading. Mathematics is followed by the field of science and reading…Most common skills are logical skills (8 studies) followed by the holistic approach of competence development, which includes motor skills, perception, cognition and visual processing, and food (4 studies). Only one or two studies dealt with the areas of professional skills, socio-emotional skills and academic skills.”

Personal Takeaway

“Gamification” of learning is an area of teaching practice that fascinates me, and it is helpful to read Stančin et al.’s meta-analysis of the existing research on the effectiveness of digital learning tools for students with intellectual disability


Akane Yoshida

Summarized Article:

Stančin, K., Hoić-Božić, N., & Skočić Mihić, S. (2020). Using digital game-based learning for students with intellectual disabilities – A systematic literature review. Informatics in Education, 19(2), 323-341.