Published: March 18, 2024

Whether we like it or not, technology is an omnipresent, integral part of our lives. Finding directions, listening to music, researching a topic, managing finances, sourcing advice—there’s so much that tech allows us to do.

That same presence and use of technology is also true for children. According to UNICEF, one in three children across the globe is an internet user. And in a 2022 article in JMIR Pediatrics and Parenting, researchers showed that 53% of children have a smartphone by age 11. Additionally, a 2022 research paper supported by the National Institutes of Health and published in the journal Pediatrics found that children’s screen time increased from 4.4 hours daily before the pandemic to 5.5 hours.

What does that mean for early childhood education? What are the pros and cons of integrating technology into the early childhood classroom, and is there a middle ground? We spoke with Catherine Lewis, Ed.D., assistant professor at the College of Education at Lynn University, to find out.

The pros of technology in early childhood education

While some adults may balk at the idea that technology could be beneficial for young children, researchers have found evidence to the contrary. In an article in Advances in Neurodevelopmental Disorders, a group of researchers, citing studies with at-risk learners, wrote, “There is some evidence to suggest that technological advances in the classroom can have a positive effect in academic or pre-academic gains, such as early literacy skills.”

“A lot of our students, even in the 6-to-8-year-old range of early childhood education, have grown up with technology right in the palm of their hands,” Lewis says. “So there is definitely a time and place for it in education.”

According to Lewis and the Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, some of the pros of technology in early childhood education include:

  • Teachers can use technology for academic diagnostic assessments for small group planning.
  • Based on the academic diagnostic assessment, teachers can find where students need help and use the tech to assign relevant lessons.
  • Because young students’ lives are enmeshed with technology, teachers can keep them engaged by allowing them to do tech-related research and reports.
  • A variety of apps and software allows teachers to communicate more easily with students and parents.
  • Teachers can use software to keep an eye on what students are doing on school computers.
  • If parents and teachers talk to students about the lessons being taught via technology, it can make learning more effective.

The cons of technology in early childhood education

While technology can enhance learning for children, some issues may arise if it is not used appropriately.

“The main concern is that teachers and students may end up relying on technology too much,” Lewis says. “The majority of students are going to do better with one-on-one contact with their teachers. It’s very important that the teacher is engaging with the students and not just relying on technology to do everything.”

A 2021 study published in the journal PLOS ONE looked at young children’s addictive use of devices. The researchers found that “self-reported usage turned out to be a significant predictor of grade average; the longer children reported using digital devices, the worse their grade average tended to be.”

Besides these issues, there are some additional cons to the use of technology in early childhood education:

  • Children face the possibility of exposure to harmful content.
  • Overuse of technology can have a negative impact on mental and emotional health.
  • Technology potentially diminishes cognitive development and reduces problem-solving skills.
  • Children may have reduced direct peer interaction if they’re reliant on technology.
  • If the teacher overuses technology, children may also have reduced interaction with that teacher.
  • Technology use can be distracting in the classroom.

Finding the middle ground

Recognizing the fact that there are both positives and negatives to children’s use of tech, the Office of Educational Technology published four guiding principles for the use of technology with early learners:

  • Technology—when used appropriately—can be a tool for learning.
  • Technology should be used to increase access to learning opportunities for all children.
  • Technology may be used to strengthen relationships among parents, families, early educators and young children.
  • Technology is more effective for learning when adults and peers interact or co-view with young children.

“We need to be very deliberate about what we choose to use the technology for,” says Lewis. “Every activity, every lesson does not have to have technology embedded into it. But [teachers] have to see that there are things that can be done with technology because that's the world in which we live,” she adds.

A good way to ensure that technology is being used appropriately in the classroom is by applying a mix of analog and digital learning. According to the nonprofit Common Sense Education, varying classroom activities in this way helps engage students and keeps them more focused when they're using tech.

The Office of Educational Technology suggests that “when technology is used in early learning settings, it should be integrated into the learning program and used in rotation with other learning tools such as art materials, writing materials, play materials and books, and [it] should give early learners an opportunity for self-expression without replacing other classroom learning materials.”

“It's OK for them to cut and paste. It's OK for them to color. It's OK for them to build something with their hands,” Lewis says. “Later on, you can add something technology based.”

Get started as a teacher with an education degree

Technology isn’t going away, and the evidence shows that more and more children are using it. The question, therefore, isn’t if it should be used in the classroom but when and how.

“When the early learners of today eventually get older and graduate high school, their lives will be even more technology based,” says Lewis. “However, they first need to grasp educational foundations while learning how to responsibly incorporate technology into their studies and lives.”

If you’re interested in helping educate and empower the next generation of learners, consider getting an online bachelor's degree in early childhood education or an online bachelor's degree in elementary education.

Ready to discuss how earning one of these degrees can help you reach your career goals? Request more information, and a Lynn University student success manager will be in touch.

Notes and conditions - PLEASE READ

Employment and career advancement: Actual outcomes vary by geographic area, previous work experience and opportunities for employment. Lynn University does not guarantee employment placement or career advancement.

Florida certification requirements: Credits and degrees earned from colleges within the State of Florida that are licensed by the State Board of Independent Colleges and Universities do not automatically qualify an individual for a Florida Teaching Certificate. The established procedure requires the Florida Department of Education to review and recognize the credentials of the individual and the accreditation of the college granting the degrees prior to approving teacher certification. Any student interested in obtaining a Florida Teaching Certificate should contact the Florida Department of Education, Bureau of Educator Certification, Suite 201, Turlington Building, 325 West Gaines St., Tallahassee, FL 32399-0400.

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