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What do Children Learn – Without Noticing – from Knowledge Programmes?

Using four knowledge formats for children, the IZI investigated what 9 to 13 year-olds gain from programmes that present knowledge in an entertaining way. 165 children aged between nine and 13 from primary and “Mittelschule“ (catering for medium academic ability at secondary level) schools in and around Munich were shown extracts from Wissen macht Ah! (Knowledge goes Ah!) (WDR), WOW die Entdeckerzone (WOW The Discovery Zone) (Super RTL), pur+ (pure+) (ZDF) and Geolino TV (NICK). The IZI conducted a study – involving interviews and drawings – to identify which programme content and explanations the children were able to remember immediately after the reception and also 14 days later. One of the key questions was: “What do children learn about metacognition and problem-solving strategies from these programmes? To what extent can children ‘crib‘ problem-solving techniques from these programmes?“ “Metacognition“ is a collective term for a range of phenomena, activities and experiences connected with knowledge and control over one’s own cognitive functions. It involves e.g. knowledge of learning and problem-solving strategies and the design and monitoring of learning processes, but also knowledge of how to motivate oneself and assess one’s own success.    


The programmes offer various starting points for learning and metacognition, e.g. in WOW children go step-by-step through a problem-solving process. The children on the television serve as a model for the children watching the television. By grasping and imitating the “recipe“ they can then experience it for themselves. Wissen macht Ah! gets to the bottom of things using explanations. The programme presents simplified models in order to help children understand how, for example, the laws of natural science underpin everyday phenomena. Science features from WOW and Wissen macht Ah! had motivated some children to take up their own activities. On the second appointed day of the study, 14 days later, they talked about the frequent successes they had had. Each episode of WOW and Wissen macht Ah! always takes the same approach to the various topics. In the monothematic programme pur+ the presenter, Erik, models different approaches to open questions. In the episode about mosquitoes that was shown, for example, he puts questions to an expert. Erik also, however, finds things out himself through his own experiments and field research. The children mentioned these and other strategies in individual interviews, e.g. Zoran (11 years old, “Hauptschule“ – secondary school for average and below-average academic ability): “Well, he didn’t believe the scientist; instead, he tried out the [anti-mosquito] treatment himself.“ In addition to aspects of content, the primary and “Hauptschule“ pupils also acquired general and specific approaches to problem-solving from the programmes. This is not, however, purely down to the learning derived from the programmes shown in the study: most of the children mentioned one or more knowledge programmes (also programmes for adults such as Galileo) which they watched fairly regularly. Children also employ what they have seen on TV in their problem-solving.  

Schlote, Elke: Learning how to learn. How knowledge programmes can support children's learning. TelevIZIon, 25/201 2/E, 26-29