Big Picture: A ‘selfie’ with a difference

Words by Natalia Kucirkova (Open University), image by Open University. Download PDF for poster.

Today’s generation is offered more personalised products and services than any other in human history. While the commercial world of ‘selfie’ propaganda might pull children into consumerism, personalisation can also empower children and motivate them in educational activities. New technologies such as tablets and smartphones are particularly well suited for personalising children’s learning to their unique needs and preferences. Children can insert their own photographs, texts, drawings or audio files into stories, making them more interesting and motivating. But does such personalisation actually promote children’s learning?  

While there is little research on the impact of digital books, there is some literature about the effects of personalisation on early language learning. In research with David Messer and Kieron Sheehy, we assessed three-year-olds’ vocabulary acquisition in relation to whether new words appeared in personalised or non-personalised book sections. After a week of repeated reading of the books, children showed significantly better knowledge of the words that were in the personalised sections. In another study we looked at the speech produced by three-year-olds when they share personalised and non-personalised books with an adult. We found that children spoke more with the personalised books, but also that this talk was more self-referential.

When building personalisation features into children’s reading materials, there needs to be careful consideration to ensure that personalisation extends children’s thinking and is more than just a commercial take on an educational activity. With digital books in particular, the opportunity to personalise children’s multimodal story experiences provides great possibility for innovation – as long as it is combined with sound educational approaches.

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