At the frontier of digital learning fun and fur rule.
In 1969, Sesame Street pioneered a new role for mass media: using television to prepare kids for school and life. In the decades since, our bold experiment has grown in step with the exploding media landscape. Online, on mobile devices, and on gaming screens, Sesame now makes virtually every digital interaction a fun and fur-filled opportunity to learn.
Today’s preschoolers take for granted a media menu unimaginable 30 years ago. 1 in 3 children under 5 now plays with a gaming device on a weekly basis, while even more use a computer, mobile phone, or tablet. And more small hands are grasping mobile devices each year, up 27% just since 2011.1
To help turn all these media moments into learning time, there’s Sesame Street. At Sesamestreet.org, preschoolers join the Muppets to explore math, healthy eating, the letter C, and so much more. Named one of Time Magazine’s 50 Best Websites and a 2012 Parent’s Choice Award-winner, the site’s all-free content builds on lessons from our show—like a Super Grover game where kids play with pulleys and levers as an extension of Sesame Street’s science and technology curriculum (STEM).
We’ve optimized the site for little learners with big, bold buttons and a star-shaped cursor—a more age-appropriate way to navigate than the standard arrow. And the site gets grownups involved, too, based on the insight that kids learn even more when they share the experience with an adult. Our family-style approach has won rave reviews, including a 2010 Webby for “Best Family/Parenting Website” and an Emmy in 2009.
The site has proven irresistible to its young audience, the site is receiving over 2.6 million visits monthly.2 In addition, we make our content accessible everywhere else kids watch online, from PBSKids.org to Netflix. On YouTube Sesame Street videos are getting around 35 million views each month3, and on our dedicated channel on YouTube families can view 1,000+ Sesame videos in a kid-safe environment.
It’s all part of an educational ecosystem that teaches across media. Like our top-rated podcasts: playful short videos that reinforce lessons from the show each week. Then there are our mobile apps, which engage kids as only interactive media can. The phenomenally popular “The Monster at the End of This Book” app series turns Grover’s beloved storybook into a launchpad for reading skills and talking about common fears. With a #1 ranking in its category on iTunes, the app has become a new family classic. And it’s just one of scores of Sesame mobile apps, several also available in Mandarin, Hindi and many other languages, bringing these remarkable experiences to half the planet.
This relentless innovation wouldn’t be possible without world-class partners. Enter Microsoft, one of the global technology greats and our collaborator on Kinect Sesame Street TV. This first-of-its-kind interactive TV program launches to an estimated 20 million Xbox users in fall 2012. Using the Kinect camera, kids get placed right in the middle of their favorite television street to move, stomp and play alongside their Muppet friends—such as throwing and counting coconuts with Grover, or trying to hold perfectly still while The Count counts to eleven (harder than you think!).
Studies show this kind of physical engagement, or “embodied learning,” helps children better grasp new concepts. That’s a crucial piece of Sesame’s accomplishment: not just widening the menu of media, but maximizing the potential of each platform to enhance learning.
Take our work with mobile leader Qualcomm that’s placing fun-filled lessons at families’ finger tips in fresh new ways. In India we are bringing Galli Galli Sim Sim, the local version of Sesame Street, to mobile phone users with limited access to any other form of radio or television. The initiative is made possible through funding from Qualcomm’s Wireless Reach program. Here at home we’re exploring augmented reality through the marriage of Sesame content and Qualcomm technology. In one joint experiment, Bert and Ernie are real, movable dolls that come to life when viewed through your tablet screen—able to talk, walk and absorb children in vivid learning experiences. “We’ve explored augmented reality before, but not until we partnered with Qualcomm were we able to build something robust and stable enough,” says Miles Ludwig, head of Sesame Street’s Content Innovation Lab.
How else can media help children learn? Our colleagues at Sesame’s Content Innovation Lab and at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center are always seeking new answers to that question. Maybe it’s intergenerational games that let a preschooler in Seattle practice letters with a grandparent in Miami. Or math puzzles that give mom immediate feedback about her child’s progress. From smarter games to innovation competitions, like one led by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center in 2012, we’re forging breakthrough connections between digital media and children’s learning every year.
Tossing virtual coconuts with Grover. Solving puzzles with a walking, talking Ernie. Here at the digital frontier, Sesame’s approach finds its ultimate expression: delighting children so completely, they never imagine how much they’re learning.
2 Sesame Workshop. (July 2011-June 2012). Average monthly visits. Retrieved from http://www.google.com/analytics
3 Sesame Workshop. (July 2011-June 2012). Average monthly views of all legally-claimed videos. Retrieved from http://cms.youtube.com.