Journal Issue: Children and Electronic Media Volume 18 Number 1 Spring 2008
Electronic Media and Problem-Solving Skills
Video game play may also enhance problem-solving skills.38 Postulating that video games provide informal training in inductive discovery, Greenfield and several colleagues administered questionnaires to college undergraduates during various stages of Evolution play. They documented a process of inductive discovery: as play went on, players induced the rules and strategies inherent to the game. A demonstration and teaching session, as provided for some study participants in a comparison group, had no effect on the final skill levels for either novices or skilled players.39
The long-term positive benefits of electronic media depend, in large part, on whether children can learn abstract knowledge or problem-solving skills and transfer them to new situations. Although children, at various ages, can learn specific facts from television, little research has specifically investigated whether they can transfer that learning, and, if so, how. Evaluations of educational television shows have provided mixed evidence for transfer.40 For instance, an evaluation of CRO, a program for six- to eleven-year-olds that focuses on science and technology, found that children understood the educational content of an episode about airplanes and flight. They could not, however, transfer underlying principles learned from the program (for example, about the dynamics of flight) to problems with a different set of stimuli (for example, a new set of model airplanes).41 Another study, of Sesame Street, found that five- and six -year-old children could not transfer a problem-solving strategy to a new problem, even though they could replicate the strategy with a problem similar to the one they saw on the show.42 Slightly more promising findings have come from studies of the math series Square One TV. In one study, some of the children transferred problem-solving skills learned from the program to new problems, though transfer performance was worse than performance on recall and comprehension measures.43 In another study, viewing Square One TV in schools for six weeks led to improved performance for fifth graders on math problems not shown on TV.44
Although evaluations of specific programs have failed to provide consistent evidence of transfer of learning, it is yet plausible that transfer occurs.45 For example, studies have demonstrated transfer effects, such as those found for Square One TV, with preschoolers and school-age children.46 Further, Anderson and several colleagues have demonstrated long-term positive effects of viewing Sesame Street; children who watched the program at age five received higher grades in the math, English, and science courses they later took in college.47 Such findings strongly suggest that some form of transfer of learning occurs; the specific mechanisms that underlie such effects, however, have yet to be described.
Shalom Fisch, in his capacity model, contends that transfer from television is possible, as long as four conditions are met: the child must understand the content of the program, must create an abstract mental representation of that content (separate from its specific context on TV), must remember the content and see its relation to the new problem, and must apply the remembered content to the new problem. A breakdown in any of these areas can impede transfer of learning. The likelihood of transfer also depends on the age of the viewer (older viewers transfer more effectively) and the content of the specific program. Transfer is more effective if the educational content is embedded in the narrative. But if it is embedded too deeply, the child may have difficulty generating an abstract representation of the content.48 Fisch therefore recommends program repetition, as well as repetition of the same content in multiple contexts, to increase the likelihood of transfer of learning. Although Fisch's theory is based on established research and theory about transfer of learning, it is relatively new and still largely untested with respect to television.
As with television, very little research has empirically tested whether video games facilitate transfer of learning. In one experiment, Hitendra Pillay found that playing computer games improved fourteen- to sixteen- year-old students' performance on computer-based educational tasks.49 Students in the experimental groups played a puzzle or adventure computer game and were subsequently tested on an interactive multimedia problem-solving program. Students who played the adventure game performed better on the problem-solving task. Pillay views these findings as consistent with the research on transfer; the adventure game was more similar to the problem-solving task and therefore facilitated transfer of learning. Playing entertainment games, Pillay also suggests, may develop users' structural knowledge, allowing them to learn effectively from other computer applications.