How To Tell If Apps For Kids Are Actually Educational

How To Tell If Apps For Kids Are Actually Educational
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There are loads of apps available for tablets that sell themselves on their “educational” status. How can you reasonably assess if their credentials are genuine?

Kids picture from Shutterstock

Swinburne University’s Dr Jordy Kaufman is one of the co-authors of a paper published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest that examines the raft of applications available for smart devices and assesses their actual educational value. The argument that Dr Kaufman’s paper puts forward is that there isn’t a set scientific set of principles to differentiate the genuinely educational apps from those that simply want your money for little to no educational reward.

The paper boils down suitability of an application along four core principles, each of which should be used to assess an app’s educational merit.

Does the app promote “active” learning?

You might think that “active” learning in a tablet or smartphone sense related to the activity of tapping or swiping, but that’s not the core metric here. Instead, it’s related to active thinking and making cognitive choices along the way to aid in education. Tapping alone isn’t enough.

Does the app encourage “engaged” learning?

Lots of educational apps encourage usage with reward structures — virtual stickers or fancy animations — but this is the wrong tack, according to the paper. Instead, the engagement of learning should be fostered through presenting new information to the student, further encouraging expanded study and a motivation to learn.

Does the app encourage “meaningful” learning?

Human beings relate new learning with existing knowledge, which is where “meaningful” learning kicks in. Cookie Monster might show you the number three, but it’s only meaningful when that knowledge is related to something a child may already know — such as a shape with three sides, or some other factor in triplicate.

Does the app utilise “social interaction”?

Educational apps tend towards being single-user experiences, the paper argues, and this is something that should perhaps be expanded upon, with the ability to use apps to encourage social learning in groups, no matter the core curricula being addressed.

The paper notes that an app doesn’t have to hit every single one of these criteria to be considered “educational”, but that it instead should be used as a blueprint for educational apps in the future. In the meantime, however, it’s a solid checklist for the value of existing applications.

Putting Education in “Educational” Apps: Lessons From the Science of Learning [Psychological Science in the Public Interest]