This book has discussed a series of research studies designed to investigate children's learning from television. A guiding assumption for this investigation was a theoretical view of children's involvement with television that laid stress on an active, cognitive, information-processing notion of learning. This perspective assumed that children's cognitive learning from television could be influenced by their own predispositions, background knowledge and attitudes, cognitive developmental level, and language ability. In addition, it was reasoned that there might be program attributes that could effect learning.
This stress on what the child brings to the viewing situation was thought to be important for at least two reasons. First, if we could establish what their preexisting knowledge, beliefs, opinions, or attitudes were, we could then explore the extent to which they could be augmented, changed, or shaped by the content of the television programs the children watched.
Research elsewhere had emphasized the role of existing knowledge in understanding and organizing new information ( Brown, Bransford, Ferrara, & Campione, 1983). With regard to television programs, real-life experience with or knowledge about the types of people and situations depicted should help viewers to understand program content ( Hoffner & Cantor, 1991).
Second, it is likely that the influence television has is dependent on the information or kinds of enjoyment children take from it. If they fail to absorb its contents to any great extent, it is unlikely that television will effect any significant changes in children's knowledge, beliefs, or attitudes. But, as we have argued, what children take from television may be critically