Early Literacy Research Library (ELRL) - Article

Incidental Word Learning Through Multiple Media: A Case for Synergy

Neuman, S.B., Kaefer, T., Pinkham, A. (2022) Incidental Word Learning Through Multiple Media: A Case for Synergy. Topics in Language Disorders, 42(4), 290-303.,

Access: Institutional Access

Publication year


study description


core topic(s)

Early Literacy

Exposures, Outcomes, Other

Language and Literacy Development , Technology and Digital/Screen-Based Media


In this article, we describe the potential for synergy—the combined use of multiple media platforms—and how the various symbol systems of these different media may support incidental word learning.


Synergy (combined use of multiple word learning media platforms)

outcomes evaluated

Incidental word learning


Topics Discussed: The potential affordances of media for incidental word learning; How digital media may contribute to incidental word learning; Words in context with digital media; Word class in digital media; The potential constraints of media for incidental word learning; printed books; The case for synergy




We review recent eye-tracking studies that explore the formal features of a medium, its affordances and constraints, and suggest how multiple media might extend word-learning gains beyond those from a single medium alone.


The article describes a theoretical mechanism to explain how these benefits might arise for word learning as well as implications for further research.


We also need to recognize that access to these multiple-platform resources may still be out of reach for many of our children. A recent Pew report (Winslow, 2019), for example, found that 44% of households with incomes below $30,000 still do not have internet capabilities. Furthermore, 40% of schools in poor areas lack broadband, with numbers even higher for those who live in rural communities. Therefore, the digital divide is still very much a barrier to providing access to multiple resources for families and their children. In addition, our presumption about the potential for synergy must be based on the quality of the content and features of each medium. When designed well, a medium such as digital stories and ebooks may contribute to children’s learning. However, programs and ebooks with distracting music, sounds, animations, and too many hotspots can potentially detract from learning (Korat & Falk, 2017; Reich et al., 2016). Moreover, there is some evidence that the overuse of any one digital device (e.g., mobile phones or tablets) might be associated with fewer interactions between parent and child (Radesky et al., 2015). Consequently, monitoring of activity to avoid excessive use is clearly needed.