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FEATURE27 January 2017

How educational psychology models help kids’ research

Features UK Youth

At yesterday’s Kids & Youth Research Conference run by the Market Research Society, Cookie Research’s Lesley Salem gave an insightful presentation on how psychology models used in teaching could help market researchers questioning children.

Children develop their cognitive skills so rapidly that techniques that work at one age, can be inappropriate for those only a year or two older (or younger). So to make sure workshops and focus groups with children are useful and achieve the necessary outcomes, introducing age-appropriate exercises is vital.

So Lesley Salem, managing director, Cookie Research took the audience at the Kids & Youth Research Conference through various educational models of child development, to help researchers working with children understand their cognitive abilities. "When you apply the education theories and models, you see the nuances and differences among kids," said Salem.

Particularly useful is Piaget’s theory of child development. He believed there are four stages of cognitive development and Salem looked at three (the children are too young to be appropriate for research in infancy) and what that meant in terms of the design of research techniques for each stage.

1. Preoperational stage; two- to seven-year-olds.

Illogical; black & white thinking; find it hard to explain ‘why'; lack of empathy; mastering language and labelling emotions; use stereotypes and rules to make sense of the world.

Implications for design: use of observation and pre-tasks to gain true response; role-play to reveal ‘rules'; very literal so mapping and sorting is highly visual; avoid mapping-based or text-based stimuli; introducing arts & crafts works well; distraction helps introduce dialogue.

2. Concrete operational stage; seven- to 11-year-olds

Logical and rigid thinking; struggle with abstract; have empathy; understand their thoughts are unique; able to explore two or three ideas; tendency to mimic.

Implications for design: simple instructions; empower children to lead the discussion; make concepts tangible.

3. Formal operational stage; 11- to 16-year-olds

Increase in logical reasoning; ability to grasp abstract concepts and implied or hidden meaning; can evaluate hypothetical; developed sense of creativity.

Implications for design: can introduce text-based concepts; better at decoding graphics/symbols; enjoy debating and self-led discussion; can conduct more complex mapping; motivated by competitive tasks.

Salem said she had been experimenting with different year groups in workshops which worked well as long as there was a mixed menu of tasks for them. "Never rely on just one mode; a mixed mode creates more energy," she added.

The other model she talked about was Fleming’s VARK model which looks at the different sensory modalities that apply to learning: visual, aural/auditory, read/write and kinesthetic.  

So for visual learners using collages, doodles and crafts work well and they enjoy mapping exercises. Auditory learners like storytelling trough movies, role-play with puppets and like listening to scripts and ideas.  Read/write learners like prompt cards and moderator-led chat while kinesthetic learners enjoy role-playing and model making but can find it hard to sit still.

"We use a VARK questionnaire as a pre-screener so we have a mix of different learners in the group," said Salem.

She finished by exploring some of the play patterns that can work well in a research context such as creative play, active play and game play.

And her advice to anyone involved with kids’ research was: "from the outset, make sure the research design is appropriate for the child and the study."

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