Looking for educational apps for your kids? A new study by the Association for Psychological Science can help. Since the iPad came out only five years ago, more than 80,000 “educational” apps have been developed, but they aren’t all created equally. Many aren’t even that educational. New apps come out so fast that they can’t even be properly evaluated, which is why the team behind this study pored over tons of study across a variety of fields to determine four evidence-based principles that can help determine if an app is really educational or not.
Is the app active in a way that requires more mental energy that just swiping across the screen? Does it require the children to actually think, or just swipe left when they see a prompt?
Is the app engaging, and not merely distracting? Storybook apps, for example, are a lot more engaging when they don’t have a lot of bells and whistles. Does the app really engage, or is it mostly just colors and sounds?
Is it meaningful within the context of the child’s life? Is it purporting to teach them something they care about, or which is directly relevant? Taking in information in a vacuum, which the learner either doesn’t care about or which they can’t easily apply, doesn’t stick. Choose apps that appeal to your kids or students, or that teach them things they can apply, like safety.
Finally, is it socially interactive? If children can use the app with peers or parents, they are likely to get a lot more out of it, because children learn socially, they learn more when they have someone to learn with. Something that two or more children can play together is better than an app that requires solo play.
These aren’t guidelines that can be applied evenly to all apps. Learning about space is a lot more contextual for some kids than others, and some single player apps could be played with a friend. Parents and teachers are going to have to look at apps themselves.