Tips to Determine if an Educational App is Actually Educational and Not Just Fun

3 min read

It’s easy and so very tempting to hand kids an iPad as an educational tool (giving you a much-needed break or an opportunity to get something done!), but with over 80,000 “educational” apps out there, it’s hard to determine where the fun ends and learning begins. The four tips below will give parents and teachers some direction on how to choose the best educational apps for little learners.

  1. Apps Should Be Minds-On, Not Minds-Off. A great analogy here is when you are using a GPS device while driving.  After arriving at your destination, more than likely you have no actual knowledge of where you are or how you got there even though you were the person driving!  This is because you were not actively processing the direction you were traveling, only passively following the instructions.  “Research tells us that these kinds of ‘minds-off’ activities are precisely what you want to avoid when it comes to selecting educational apps for children,” states Jennifer M. Zosh in an article for mashable.com.  Apps should utilize a more active learning approach to allow for deeper processing.  Before you download a so-called “educational” app, determine if children will simply be watching the screen or will need to actively solve problems and think deeply.

 

  1. Apps Should be Engaging, Not Distracting. Many app developers include “bells and whistles” on “educational” apps, however, more often than not, they are a distraction to learning.  Studies show that children who read traditional books at home and school, as opposed to electronic books, have an increased comprehension of the story. More than likely, the difference is the extra sound effects and other enhancements often found with electronic books and apps.  When selecting an educational app, choose apps that help children stay on task and not become distracted.

 

  1. Apps Should Be Meaningful. Research shows that children learn better when their parents and teachers promote play that shows meaning. Tosh states, “Seeing a triangle in pieces of pizza is more meaningful than simply seeing them in perfectly drawn shapes on a screen with the point always at the top.”  Even if an app educates your child on letters and numbers, make sure the app goes a step further and puts this information in the context of everyday use.

 

  1.   Apps that Involve Social Interaction Support Learning. Research shows that the best resource for deeper learning is human interaction.  This may prove difficult when we’re talking about learning on an app via iPad or Android.  However, newer apps are being developed that encourage children to play alongside their parents or other friends.  “Even feeling as if they have a social relationship with famous characters like Elmo or Mickey Mouse appears to help children feel connected and has the potential to increase learning and engagement,” Tosh adds.

As a parent or teacher, it is important to pay attention to the context in which a child is learning.  Children absorb more when they are given the tools to solve a problem and the freedom to find the solution on their own.
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