The Pearson Foundation has released a white paper authored by Arizona State University’s Jay Blanchard and Terry Moore which gathers information on how digital media effects learning in children.
The Digital World of Young Children: Emergent Literacy (PDF) examines the impact of cell phones, television, videogames, smart devices and computers, with an emphasis on three to five year old kids in developing and least-developed countries. The report offers that, “digital media is already transforming the language and cultural practices that enable early literacy development, making possible a new kind of personal and global interconnectedness.”
A few excerpts from the section on videogames:
With the exception of a study of video game effects on first- and second-grade children in Chile, there is no research available on the influence of video games on emergent literacy skills development.
However, more and more video games are now tailored for young children, and some are targeted at emergent literacy.
The impact of this increased availability is unclear. It is known that video games can have both negative and positive influences on older children and adolescents. Benefits have been documented in terms of enhanced visual attention and perceptual-motor skills development among older users.
However, negative effects from video game violence and aggression have been a contentious issue, particularly with regard to young children even if they are just watching and listening.
On media that is not “intentionally educational” (i.e. television and videogames):
These types of media activate orienting and selecting processes as direct responses to the visual and auditory features of the content. However, it is not until young children engage and sustain their attention that actual encoding, or learning, occurs.
The white paper offers the following conclusion:
… until more empirical research becomes available, it is only possible to speculate about the effects based mostly on what the research has taught us about television and computer-based learning with older children, adolescents, and adults in developed nations. Factors that may be affected include attention, information processing speed, social collaboration, attitudes and digital literacy.