10 elements of great digital content for young learners

1. Play is how children naturally learn about the world. The desire to play is actually in humans’ DNA, Schlichting said, adding that his wife noted that “every time a child uses their finger to touch, tap, or click, they are asking a question.” Digital content lets children explore and gives them rewards and payback for that exploration.

2. Interactive content should be inviting and easy to use. It lets children “get in there and do something,” Schlichting said.

3. Digital content is responsive to a child’s actions. This is especially important with younger children, Schlichting said, who will think the tool or game they are using is broken if it isn’t responsive to their actions.

4. It allows for child-driven exploration. Children are in charge, and this empowers them as well as engages them.

5. Digital content holds children’s attention, keeping them on task in creative and engaging ways.

6. It often uses humor to reinforce motivation. Three- to 6-year-old learners tend to prefer “cute characters, animals,” and humorous interactions or results in their digital exploration, Schlichting said.

7. Children in this age range also tend to be explorers. Therefore, digital content should give children the freedom and the option to make choices and investigate different outcomes. This age group also is filled with non-readers or emerging readers, so audio instructions should be short with little or no text.

8. Intrinsic motivation is the key to time on task, Schlichting said. “If it’s fun to play with and kids want to do it, they’ll keep playing it. Give them something they want to do.”

9. Building off of #8, young learners seem to prefer to “get to the good stuff quickly,” Schlichting said. This keeps them engaged and motivated.

10. Effective digital content for young learners uses the power of surprise as reinforcement. Surprise sparks new interest, keeps the content unpredictable, and adds intermittent reinforcement and renewed interest.

Laura Ascione

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