Technology plays a central role in modern in-person or remote educational environments, including the early childhood education classroom. When used appropriately, educational technologies can enhance learning experiences for young learners. But selecting appropriate educational technologies and integrating them effectively is complex. It requires intention, technological literacy, and collaboration between all parties involved.
Reflecting this goal, the online Master of Science in Education (MSE) in Early Childhood Education degree program from Arkansas State University emphasizes developing critical competencies with educational technologies. Through these studies, educators can advance their understanding of the appropriate selection and application of technology for early childhood education.
Considerations and Guiding Principles for Technology Use in Early Childhood Education
The purpose of technology integration in early childhood education is to enrich the child’s experience and support intended learning and developmental outcomes. Technology should not be integrated and used for its own sake. Rather, it is a tool used to help achieve educational objectives.
Educators must consider numerous factors and questions in technology selection and implementation. For instance, what learning and developmental outcomes will this technology help a child achieve? How will it enhance a child’s engagement with learning? Is the technology appropriate for a child’s stage of development and individual learning needs?
The Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology outlines four guiding principles for using technology with early learners. Educators should follow the four following principles when implementing technology in the classroom:
- When used appropriately, technology can be a tool for learning.
- It should be used to increase access to learning opportunities for all children.
- Technology tools may be used to strengthen relationships among parents, families, early educators, and young children.
- Learning is more effective when adults and peers interact or co-view with young children.
How Can Appropriate Technologies Enhance Learning Experiences for Early Learners?
Here are a few examples to illustrate how different technologies can enable transformational learning experiences for young children:
The Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development notes that e-books and educational apps can enrich literacy learning experiences for preschool-age children. Tools that incorporate text, video, and graphics to help children grasp meanings, concepts, and stories with visuals help students note relationships between ideas. Read-along audio options can help reinforce the connection of sounds, words, and images.
Incorporating multimedia technologies into instructional and assessment practices can help engage students with diverse learning needs. These technologies enable flexible content delivery, allowing the differentiation of lessons and activities according to individual learning styles. Multimedia technologies also provide students with flexibility in how they demonstrate what they learn. This can increase access to genuine learning opportunities for all students.
Furthermore, children can use simple, creative, educational apps to engage in active, self-directed learning by creating content (videos, audio recordings, etc.). The Office of Education notes that actively creating content is an important application of technology for children ages six to eight. The Office suggests that children between the ages of two and five should also use technology in this way, but for a maximum of one hour per day. Families and educators of young children in this age range should consider the tech tool’s quality, context and focus on relationship-building efforts.
Virtual classroom software and video conferencing tools allow interactive education when in-person school is not an option. These tools can also enable student interaction and collaboration with people from different communities and cultures worldwide, regardless of virtual or in-person classroom environments. This fosters cultural awareness and intercultural communication skills necessary for life in the 21st century.
Virtual classrooms, communication tools, and online digital portfolios also help engage parents and families in bridging home and school learning. They provide opportunities for essential information sharing and parental involvement. All these factors can strengthen the vital relationships that shape a young child’s educational experience while reinforcing what a child learns at school in the home environment.
Fostering Connection and Active Learning
However, it is important to highlight the importance of interaction and its connection with active learning. Consuming technological content without actively thinking about and reflecting on it, as in passive technology use, may only yield minimal rote learning for young children. Conversely, active technology use can engage children in meaningful learning.
Active technology relies on the user’s thoughtful engagement and interaction with content. Interaction and co-viewing with adults and peers encourages dynamic use, and reflection increases the positive impact of educational technologies. Interactive engagement is key for young learners.
Staff development and training are also essential for effective technology integration. For example, in its report titled Uses of Technology to Support Early Childhood Practice, the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation reported a lack of staff technology literacy as “the most common barrier to successful implementation.”
Technology is just one area of study in A-State’s online MSE in Early Childhood Education program, with coursework in other areas rounding out the curriculum. A course titled Technology and Early Childhood equips educators with ways to integrate educational technology into early childhood instruction. By applying these skills to their teaching methods and their support of families and other teachers, educators can help improve technology integration in their educational community.