Quick, incidental word learning in educational media: all contexts are not equal

Susan B. Neuman, Rachel Flynn, Kevin Wong, Tanya Kaefer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Classic studies of educational media have demonstrated that children can engage in quick, incidental word learning on the basis of a single exposure of a program. Since most words are learned from context, a lingering question has been whether the kind of contextual support affects word learning. Using a within-subjects design this study examined 102 low-income preschoolers’ word learning of digital episodes in three contextual settings: participatory, expository, and narrative contexts. Across three rounds, children’s word knowledge was assessed through researcher-developed measures. Results indicated that target word learning occurred most frequently in the participatory followed by the expository context, with narrative being the most challenging for children. In all cases, however, children with lower receptive language scores acquired fewer words than their higher language peers, suggesting that without additional supports, educational media might exacerbate rather than close the word gap.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2913-2937
Number of pages25
JournalEducational Technology Research and Development
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • Educational media
  • Preschoolers
  • Vocabulary

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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