Film, Television, & Media as an Educational Tool

A child keeps in their mind a register of the actions and conversations of those who are about them; every scene they are engaged in is a book, from which they insensibly enrich their memory, treasuring up their store till time shall ripen their judgement, and turn it into a profit. – Rousseau, Selections from Emilius

The Interest-Stimulation Theory – a theory that proposes that television, film, and media can enhance learning by stimulating children’s interest. As Nueman (1995) states, “by stimulating new interests, young viewers will gain knowledge and then try to obtain even further knowledge on these same topics.” (p. 101)

The Short-Term Gratifications Theory – a theory that proposes that television and film changes children’s expectations toward learning, “creating a generation of spectators who rely more on vicarious experiences than on active involvement in learning. This attitude is thought to affect school learning in two ways: First, exposure to the effortless activity of television viewing may lead children to believe that all activities require so little effort, and, second, that the rapid pacing of television may induce shortened attention spans and cause hyperactive behavior.” (Nueman, 1995).

Arguments AGAINST Film, Television, & Media as an Educational Tool:

“Children rarely go purposefully to the medium for useful information-most learning is absorbed incidentally, as children view spontaneously for entertainment. Without any special effort at retention, attention may be divided among a host of other activities, some of which may take precedence over viewing. What is learned, then, can vary dramatically according to the circumstances seen as relevant to young viewers.” (Nueman, 1995).

“Rich media will benefit learners only to the extent that its capabilities are harnessed in ways that support human learning processes.” (p. 310, Instructional Design and Technology).

Arguments FOR Film, Television, & Media as an Educational Tool:

“Rather than being a threat to the development of reading, television might be seen as a complementary medium, engaging children in experiences that require similar processing tools. Though clearly different in style, children make judgments about the comprehensibility of both media, generate inferences, interpret content in terms of their own past experiences, and selectively edit content differentiating central from incident events. Each of these component skills become increasingly refined with greater experience. Thus, the theories of comprehension for each medium correspond, forming a convergent model of the overall comprehension process.” (p. 84, Literacy in the Television Age, 1995).

“A theory of synergy, however, goes one step beyond complementary. Synergy implies not only a cooperative relationship, but one in which the total effect is greater than the sum of its parts. Operationally defined, this suggests that when used appropriately, television might enliven and even enhance literacy. Such an explanation might account for the replicated finding that up to 10 hours per week of viewing actually seems to relate to higher reading scores (Nueman, 1988; Williams et al., 1982). The entertaining format of television, therefore, might belie its function as an informational resource and cognitive processing tool, particularly for young children.” (p. 84, Literacy in the Television Age, 1995).

“Learning is a multimodel process, requiring a wide range of physical, perceptual, and cognitive skills. While literacy’s enormous value is undeniable, it does not come without limitations. Sometimes, visually presented images can instill competence in skills far better than can verbal descriptions. Other times some type of motor response is necessary. For example, it is virtually impossible to learn to drive or fix a car just be reading a manual. Learning requires knowledge transformations from different types of experiences.” (p. 98, Literacy in the Television Age).

“Newer technologies do not in any way reduce the vital importance of competence in reading and writing. Rather, as the modes of communication expand, so, too, do our means of enhancing learning among all children increase. We now have the capacity to shape instruction to account for different characteristics of learners and different tasks and settings. It would represent a sad state of affairs to forego these options due to an anachronistic view of thinking and learning. A diverse culture demands diverse multimodal strategies to ensure that all children, regardless of their particular strengths and weaknesses, are given opportunities to learn.” (p. 99)

“It is true that by design, television is not an instrument of teaching, yet the medium may have much to offer in educational value. For example, television is a remarkable disseminator of information. It has undoubtedly contributed to the public’s knowledge and understanding of current social and political events. Similarly, television is a primary medium through which many children today are introduced to a wide variety of stories and genres. These opportunities could be used more fruitfully to help children see the important connections between their traditional school subjects and the different facets of our culture.” (p. 201).


Works Cited

Nueman, S. B. (1995). Literacy in the Television Age. New Jersey: Ablex Publishing Company.



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