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Learning Through Stories (2012)

The learning opportunities offered by fictional programmes were investigated using the Canadian programme Dino Dan, which is broadcast on ARD. The series tells stories from the daily life of the 10 year-old protagonist Dan Henderson, a committed dinosaur fan. He carries out a range of experiments, employing various scientific methods. The question underpinning the study was, inter alia, the extent to which the programme gives pre-school children strategies for acquiring knowledge and a positive attitude towards research. As part of a reception study by the IZI, 59 children aged between three and six each watched two episodes of Dino Dan on four consecutive days. Before and after watching the epiodes, the children were interviewed individually about their knowledge of dinosaurs and their attitude to research, learning and imagination. The reception situations were video-recorded and evaluated with respect to how the children engaged and interacted with the plot.  


The programme is very popular with the children who were interviewed. They clearly enjoy watching the programme and they are also very positive about it in the interviews. In terms of content, the children are, without doubt, fascinated by the dinosaur theme. The older children also enjoy learning something about dinosaurs. On the one hand, they learn facts about dinosaurs, e.g. the names of the prehistoric animals, but they memorise these better if the names are skilfully interwoven into the story and emotionally charged. Some of the children also gain knowledge acquisition techniques from the programme – so-called metacognitive skills. After eight episodes of Dino Dan there is an increase in the number of children who mention – apart from acquiring and revisiting knowledge, looking things up in books or following up by watching specialist programmes –investigating things themselves and going on their own learning journey as a way of acquiring knowledge. In addition to this, the Dino Dan stories alter assumptions about children’s abilities, giving them the courage to research and learn. Some children’s (self-)confidence increases when they see that children at their age, too, or a little older, are able to learn and investigate more difficult and complex things. The children’s favourite character is Dan. A the same time, many pre-school children do not necessarily want to be Dan. Nonetheless, they enjoy watching the stories about his imaginary worlds, and they imagine they are part of the stories. The stories the children memorised particularly well were the ones in which they – as active protagonists in spectacular everyday events – found out something about dinosaurs. It was clear, however, that there were also moments in the programme in which the pre-shool children were obviously less emotionally and cognitively involved. This is the case when the programme becomes too didactic or too factually oriented. Overall, however, the programme offers children an effective learning environment that is a lot of fun.     

Holler, Andrea; Götz, Maya: I like Dino Dan "because it was pure fantasy". A reception study with preschool children. TelevIZIon, 26/2013/E, 34-38.
Dino Dan: "Creating excitement for the world". A conversation with J.J. Johnson and Christin Simms. TelevIZIon, 26/2013/E, 32-33.