February 2020 research round-up

Research highlights in learning and education from around the world
Published in Neuroscience
February 2020 research round-up

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Baby talk helps child language development

Baby talk – slow, high-pitched communication with exaggerated intonation and facial expressions – is used widely when talking with young children. This study investigated whether a parental coaching intervention can increase use of this characteristic form of communication, and whether baby talk – or “parentese” – benefits children's language outcomes.

Children aged 6 months were enrolled in the study and followed until they were 18 months of age. Compared to families in a control group (no intervention), the coaching intervention enhanced the amount of parentese used over this period, increased child vocalizations, and improved child language outcomes. The study concludes that encouraging parents to use this form of communication through an educational coaching intervention is effective, and assists language development in children.

Ramirez et al. (2020) Parent coaching increases conversational turns and advances infant language development. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1921653117

Training attention with neurofeedback

Executive functions like attention can strongly influence how well a child performs in the classroom. If these traits can be trained, learning outcomes could benefit. One potential way to train attention is by manipulating alpha waves – brain activity patterns hypothesized to be important for attention – with neurofeedback. However, convincing evidence that alpha waves are causally involved in attention has eluded researchers.

In this study, researchers used MEG-based neurofeedback to train subjects to manipulate their own alpha waves. During and immediately after training, subjects showed a training-induced bias in their spatial attention. This shows that neurofeedback training can help users to control their own alpha waves and thus improve their spatial attention.

Bagherzadeh et al. (2020) Alpha synchrony and the neurofeedback control of spatial attention. Neuron 105(3): P577-587.E5 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2019.11.001

Mobile technologies for learning

Part of an upcoming special issue on mobile technology in education, this article addresses whether the right questions are being asked in research into mobile technologies for learning. For the most part, the author argues, the answer is no.

Instead, research into mobile technologies for learning should address three questions:

  1. Do students learn better with mobile technology versus other media?
  2. What aspects of mobile technology promote better learning?
  3. What conditions allow better learning with mobile technology.

This short article reinforces the argument recently made in an opinion piece for Educational Technology Research and Development – that educational technology researchers need to pay more attention to learning outcomes than in the “promise” of the technology, or how appealing it is to students.

Mayer (2020) Where is the learning in mobile technologies for learning? Contemporary Educational Psychology DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cedpsych.2019.101824

Does gamifying learning improve outcomes?

The gamification of learning – using game-design elements in educational material – has been widely suggested to motivate learners. Like other educational technologies, however (see above), the jury is out on whether and how gamification improves learning outcomes.

This meta-analysis looked at previous studies across three learning domains – cognitive, motivational and behavioral. The analysis showed that gamifying educational material has a small but significant benefit on all three types of learning, with the most robust being for cognitive outcomes. It was less clear which aspects of game design – such as game fiction and social interaction within the game – contributed to these positive effects.

The authors conclude that there is sufficient evidence that gamification has benefits for learning, and that future work should focus on identifying which elements of game-design are most effective.

Sailer and Homner (2020) The gamification of learning: A meta-analysis. Educational Psychology Review 32: 77-112 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-019-09498-w

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