New technologies, playful experiences, and multimodal learning

Nicola Jill YELLAND

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


The objective of this paper/session is to discuss the research and literature that supports the contention that young children learn best through play and present new data which calls for a reconceptualization of play. The works of Piaget and Vygotsky have informed the basis of early childhood curriculum, including Developmentally Appropriate Practice. In this paper I present a review of the literature and argue that with the advent of new technologies we need to rethink the notion of play to incorporate activities using new media as playful experiences, supported by adults. Piagetian theory posits the centrality of concrete or ‘real’ world experiences as fundamental to young children’s learning. During the 1980s, this contention was used to justify denying young children access to computers since they were regarded as being ‘too abstract’. It will be argued here that what constitutes ‘concrete’ has changed considerably over the past 20 years and further that exploration in Virtual worlds, as well as being able to create new representations with technologies, requires us to rethink the nature of play and our interactions with children. I will present data in the form of learning scenarios from case study research projects that were derived from intact early childhood classrooms. The studies adopted a socio- cultural approach which asserts that young children learn when they feel a sense of belonging and also in an inter-personal way before they are able to internalize the understandings that they have encountered. The contemporary view of play presented here incorporates new technologies that afford opportunities for young children to play in multiple modes so they are able to acquire deeper understandings about how things work and connect and are relevant to their lives. It also suggests that teachers and other carers of young children need to scaffold this new learning rather than adopt a passive observation role, which has tended to predominate in the traditional literature. This is important work since it challenges some of the taken for granted assumptions about the role of play in early childhood and suggests alternative perspectives which contend that we need to incorporate playful experiences into our programs in which adults scaffold children’s learning and facilitate higher order thinking and problem solving. Playful experiences in the early years reflect a new view of play that is located in contemporary learning contexts. Examples will be drawn from new media contexts that young children encounter as part of their everyday lives. These will include dolls that can be played with in the ‘real world’, viewed in books and manipulated on screens, as well as via online play environments (e.g. Panwapa). Finally, the impact of social media contexts (e.g. Zula World, Club Penguin) will be considered with regard to their potential as an online playground. Such playful explorations provide the framework for understanding the critical role that new technologies can play in multimodal learning and suggest ways in which teachers can support this learning with a wider pedagogical repertoire.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Event2010 Annual meeting of American Educational Research Association : Understanding Complex Ecologies in a Changing World - Denver, United States
Duration: 30 Apr 201004 May 2010


Conference2010 Annual meeting of American Educational Research Association : Understanding Complex Ecologies in a Changing World
Abbreviated titleAERA2010
Country/TerritoryUnited States


Yelland, N. J. (2010, May). New technologies, playful experiences, and multimodal learning. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of American Educational Research Association: Understanding Complex Ecologies in a Changing World, Denver, CO.


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