NARRATOR: Young children learn best through social interaction. At least, that is what Andrew Meltzoff is trying to prove. Meltzoff, an NSF-funded researcher at the University of Washington is studying an emerging field called the "Science of Learning," which re-evaluates how children learn in formal and informal settings. He suggests that despite the wide use of technology, interaction is the most effective way to learn.
MELTZOFF: (12:41) "We're born, in a way, ready to interact with other people and to engage in social communication and social learning right from the moment of birth."
NARRATOR: Infants and young children learn from imitation and by following the actions of those around them. They adapt mannerisms and speech patterns, but technology is changing how children learn and communicate. Often, it replaces face-to-face human interaction.
MELTZOFF: (3:57) "And there's a lot of questions in society about live television and whether live interaction is more effective than from learning from different types of media. And when you look at young children, especially children in the first year of life, there is absolutely firm evidence that learning from social interaction is far more powerful than learning from media."
NARRATOR: A study in second language learning supports this idea. One group of nine-month old American children learned Chinese by listening to a soundtrack and watching a DVD, while another group interacted with a tutor, while playing and reading books.
MELTZOFF: (1:39) "The results show that American children who were provided with this information, the Chinese input from a live tutor, with somebody they interacted with, learned beautifully. But American children who were presented with this foreign speech sound either over auditory tape or auditory visual, learned absolutely nothing. So this study was really stunning and important in showing us the value of social interaction or learning, in this case particularly for learning language in young children."
NARRATOR: Today, children are communicating using technology such as cell phones, instant messaging and other computer programs.
MELTZOFF: (8:30) "We're not sure of the long-term consequences of raising children in a digital world with the level of multitasking that there is, and perhaps a cut-back on face-to-face social interaction."
NARRATOR: For better or for worse, our means of social communication are evolving. What remains clear for now is that social interaction is crucial to how we learn and comprehend the world around us.
For the National Science Foundation, I'm Ellen Ferrante.