Experience, represent, apply (ERA): A heuristic for digital engagement in the early years

Tom Lowrie, Kevin Larkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


This paper presents an heuristic that underpinned the development of a range of early years applications (apps) as part of the Early Learning Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Australia (ELSA) project (2016–19). The heuristic was developed to address a range of challenges that accompany the use of digital technologies in the year before formal schooling. These include the role of digital technologies in play-based learning environments, screen time and the importance of agency when young children are using digital technologies. In an increasingly digital world, the issue of screen time looms large as a particularly contested aspect of technology use by young children. The ELSA project responded to this challenge by developing a pedagogical framework that embedded digital technologies into context-rich, play-based STEM learning. The Experience, Represent, Apply (ERA) heuristic discussed in this paper is a component of the project's overall pedagogical framework and provides early years educators with the opportunity, and the know-how, to integrate digital technologies into STEM activities through intentional teaching and play-based engagement. It was evident from educator feedback at the four days of workshops we delivered, and in other comments throughout the year long trial, that the educators were able to embrace the cyclic nature of the ERA heuristic and ensure that the time spent on the tablet (Represent) was connected to contextualised learning opportunities (Experience and Apply). Importantly, the tablets provided affordances for the children to utilise User Generated Content (UGC) to support active engagement when using the tablets.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-147
Number of pages17
JournalBritish Journal of Educational Technology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020


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