How Do Toddlers Experience Digital Media? A Case Study of a 28-Month Old Child Learning to Use iPad



Digital media is becoming increasingly prevalent in households and classroom settings lowering the age of fi rst exposure to technology; however, little is known about how children experience digital media and how their experiences relate to learning and social engagement. In this case study, we followed a 28-month-old boy in a naturalistic setting for 5 weeks, videotaping the process of his interactions with the iPad. Using a combination of video coding, screen recordings, and a formal academic assessment we evaluated the effects of digital media on specifi c learning outcomes, child affective states associated with gains in digital literacy, and the role of social interaction in the process of digital media exposure. We found that the number of errors predicted a signifi cant amount of the variance in the child’s levels of frustration, attentiveness, help-seeking behaviors, and persistence. Two main types of affect, confusion and attentiveness, predicted gains in his iPad profi ciency, providing important insights into the role of emotions in digital learning. With increased levels of iPad profi ciency, we observed an inconsistent pattern of child social engagement. This study is the fi rst, to our knowledge, to use a combination of qualitative observation data, standardized assessment, and quantitative analysis of a child’s behavior in the process of digital literacy learning.

General Information

Keywords: toddler, technology, digital literacy, iPad

Journal rubric: Data Analysis

Article type: scientific article


Funding. This project was funded by the US Department of Education under authority of the SCIENCE REFORM ACT OF 2002, Program Title Education Research, DFDA/Subprogram No: 84.305A PR/AWARD NUMBER 5A160402. Grantees undertaking such projects are encouraged to freely express their professional judgement. Therefore, this article does not necessarily refl ect the position or policies of the abovementioned agency, and no offi cial endorsement should be inferred.

Acknowledgements. The preparation of this manuscript was supported by funding from the Institutes of Education Sciences, through award R305A160402 (PI: Elena L. Grigorenko). Grantees undertaking such projects are encouraged to express freely their professional judgment. This article, therefore, does not necessarily represent the position or policies of the IES and no offi cial endorsement should be inferred.

For citation: Zhukova M.A., Kilani H., Garcia J.L., Tan M., Parell P.D., Hein S., Grigorenko E.L. How Do Toddlers Experience Digital Media? A Case Study of a 28-Month Old Child Learning to Use iPad. Modelirovanie i analiz dannikh = Modelling and Data Analysis, 2020. Vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 5–23. DOI: 10.17759/mda.2020100301.

A Part of Article

Tablet technologies are the most novel addition of digital media to children’s environments, as they can be used both as an active and passive technology and require fi ne motor skills to allow for navigation. The impact of these features on the development of young children currently remains understudied.


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Information About the Authors

Marina A. Zhukova, PhD in Psychology, Senior Researcher, Center for Cognitive Sciences, Sirius University of Science and Technology, Russia, ORCID:, e-mail:

Hechm Kilani, Graduate Research Assistant, Genetic and Neurobehavioral Systems:Interdisciplinary Studies, University of Houston, Houston, USA, ORCID:, e-mail:

Jessica L. Garcia, Graduate Research Assistant, Genetic and Neurobehavioral Systems: Interdisciplinary Studies, University of Houston, Houston, USA, ORCID:, e-mail:

Mei Tan, Graduate Research Assistant, Texas Institute of Measurement, Evaluation and Statistics, University of Houston, Houston, USA, ORCID:, e-mail:

Paul D. Parell, Graduate, Yale University, Product Manager, Khan Academy, San Mateo, CA, US, Connecticut, USA, ORCID:, e-mail:

Sascha Hein, PhD, Professor, Department of Education and Psychology, Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany, ORCID:, e-mail:

Elena L. Grigorenko, PhD, Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished Professor of Psychology, University of Houston, Houston, TX, USA; Adjunct Senior Research Scientist, Moscow State University of Psychology and Education, Moscow, Russia; Professor and Acting Director, Center for Cognitive Sciences, Sirius University of Science and Technology, Federal territory "Sirius", Russia; Adjunct Professor, Child Study Center and Adjunct Senior Research Scientist, Haskins Laboratories, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA; Research Certified Professor, Baylor College of Medicine, Member of the editorial boards of the journals “Clinical and Special Educatiom”, “Experimental Psychology” and “Psychological Science and Education”, Houston, USA, ORCID:, e-mail:



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