Can Small Changes Matter? Reducing Cognitive Load in Educational Media Supports Low-Income Preschoolers’ Vocabulary Learning

Preeti G. Samudra, Kevin M. Wong, Susan B. Neuman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Preschoolers can learn vocabulary from educational videos, but children from low-income backgrounds often do not learn as effectively as their higher income peers. We investigated whether adding attentiondirecting cues to media (Study 1) and slowing the pacing of media (Study 2) supported vocabulary learning for preschoolers from low-income homes. We hypothesized that children would benefit from the reduced top-down processing demands in Study 1 (N = 80), and from the additional processing time in Study 2 (N = 70). Both studies utilized counterbalanced within-subjects designs with each child participating in both the experimental (added cues or slowed pacing) and control condition. Results showed that children performed better on receptive vocabulary posttests when attention cues were added (Study 1) and when the pacing was slower (Study 2) compared with the controls, though effects sizes were small. There were no differences by condition for expressive vocabulary. In Study 2 (slower pacing), we measured visual attention to videos using eye-tracking to see if the slow pacing could sustain children’s attention to the video as effectively as the standard pacing. No differences in attention were observed between the slower and standard paced videos. However, attention predicted learning more strongly in the standard paced videos than the slower paced videos, suggesting that visual attention was less of a limiting factor for learning in the slower paced videos. Overall, findings suggest that reducing the cognitive load of educational media can be beneficial for vocabulary learning for children from lowincome homes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1277-1291
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Educational Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2022


  • Attention cues
  • Cognitive load
  • Educational media
  • Pacing
  • Vocabulary

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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