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When do Children's Television Programmes Provide Children with Self-Perceived Learning?

Children learn through television – the question is: what are they learning? An international study gave children the opportunity to report back themselves on occasions when they “really learned something from television“. Whereas studies usually address the question of what kind of programme content children remember, this was the first time an international study went down a different route, giving children their own say. 1,412 children aged between seven and ten in Germany, the USA, Scotland, Ireland, Argentina and Cuba drew and described occasions when they “really learned a lot from television“. 


The childrens‘ idea of what they learn from television does not necessarily correspond to the adults‘ concept of an “educational programme“. The programmes most frequently mentioned by the children are cartoons, followed – quite a way behind – by knowledge programmes for children and sitcoms. Sometimes, however, the children also describe how they learned something “very important“ from a broad range of genres – from feature films and documentaries for adults through to scripted reality formats. In all the countries there is a broad spectrum in terms of what children perceive they are learning and the programmes that provide this learning experience. At the same time, there are clear national differences. Programmes such as the US cartoon series SpongeBob SquarePants and sitcoms such as iCarly (both Nickelodeon) or Disney’s Hannah Montana and Phineas and Ferb are broadcast in all the countries, and in all the countries children pick up modes of behaviour and worldly wisdom from these. In the countries in which children have access to appealing, humorous knowledge and documentary programmes specifically designed for children, these are very well received. From the children’s point of view, they gain a lot from programmes such as Horrible Histories (CBBC) or Willi wills wissen (Willi Wants to Know it All)(BR/KiKA). The clear differences emerging from the international comparison show that society must strive to provide its children with a full range of programmes which offer them appealing ways of accessing knowledge and enable them to understand the environment they live in.          

Holler; Andrea; Götz, Maya; Egerer, Anne; et al.: SpongeBob or Willi wants to know it all? Children's self-perceived learning from television. TelevIZIon, 25/2012/E, pp. 11-13.