MSCA ITN e-LADDA (2019 - 2023)

MSCA ITN e-LADDA (2019 - 2023)

"Children are in the midst of a vast, unplanned experiment surrounded by digital technologies that were not available but 5 years ago” (Hirsh-Pasek et al., 2015)


Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press over 5 centuries ago revolutionized knowledge dissemination and learning across social strata. Some predict the same of digital technologies: the digital age is already affecting human culture, behaviour and cognition, and is changing our children’s lives and childhood dramatically. New technologies create environments that could alter how we process information, the degree to which we take risks, how we socialise and empathise with others and even, how we view our own identity.

Parents experience that toddlers can handle digital tools with a level of sophistication that they can only envy. We are immersed in a ‘digital ecology’ increasingly populated by devices that are both tools at our disposal and interactive agents with a degree of autonomy. While software development in the provision of interactive digital platforms is advancing at a fast and unprecedented rate, and schools are spontaneously adopting digital solutions for the acquisition of academic skills, such as literacy, at present, there is no adequate research base documenting the effects of digital tools on language or other learning outcomes in young children. Neither are current software solutions based on developmental, educational or psycholinguistic principles.

On the one hand, it can be expected, that this digital ecology may provide new opportunities and ways of (1) enhancing existing learning environments and (2) devising technologies that can improve learning and adjust to the needs of a variety of groups. On the other hand, the new digital environment may hide undesirable consequences for early child development.

“Social networking sites could worsen communication skills and reduce interpersonal empathy; obsessive gaming could lead to greater recklessness, a shorter attention span, and an increasingly aggressive disposition; heavy reliance on search engines and a preference for [Web] surfing rather than researching could result in agile mental processing at the expense of deep knowledge and understanding” (Greenfield, 2014, p. 265). Furthermore, newly published research suggests an adverse impact of screen time on children’s cognitive development.

The challenge, then, as identified in the Horizon2020 programme, is to develop a solid and independent multidisciplinary and longitudinal knowledge base, and a new generation of specialized interdisciplinary researchers, that investigate and explain under which conditions harmful versus beneficial effects occur in the context of digital environments, so that effective social, educational, health and online safety policies, and practices can be developed.

Despite the rapid change in the child’s ecology and the rapid advance of technology, research on the impact of digital technologies on children’s communication and language development is still scarce and highly fragmented with no unitary approach across disciplines.

The central scientific goal of e-LADDA is to establish whether the new and quite intuitive interactions afforded by digital tools impact on young children’s language development and language outcomes in a positive or adverse way, and respond to the need to train new brands of interdisciplinary researchers to support this scientific goal. We further aim to establish exactly what factors in both the technology itself and the communication channel advance language learning and growth or may impede it. This goal will be pursued from a highly interdisciplinary and cross-sectorial perspective bridging between research disciplines and methodologies and in collaboration with industry and the non-academic public sector.

The main objectives of e-LADDA are: 

1) to provide a platform for the training of the next generation of scientists drawing for the first time on interdisciplinary perspectives from basic, applied and translational research on language learning in the digital age

2) to provide a unified research approach to the benefits and drawbacks of digital technologies for young children´s language learning

3) transform and develop new digital solutions that benefit learners

4) to provide guidance to policy makers, educators, practitioners and families in how emerging digital environments should be navigated, regulated and transformed.

The ESRs will benefit from interdisciplinary training through substantial mobility, and direct collaboration across a complementary team of beneficiaries and partners at the forefront of interdisciplinary approaches to digital technology and language learning.