Mobile applications (apps) have become an increasingly popular tool in ed-tech inside and outside the classroom. Especially post COVID-19 pandemic, parents of younger children have been looking for resources to help support their children’s learning outside of the school setting in a non-formal way. Educational apps, however, are not all considered truly educational despite being classified as educational in the mobile app stores. Only a number of them are designed with educational and pedagogical merit. Some of the apps are just entertaining games while others have proven to provide educational value.
But how can parents evaluate what apps are truly educational and add educational value to their children, and what apps are not?
For apps in general to be considered educational, we highlight the most important things they need to have to result in effective learning:
Learning objectives. Perhaps this is the most important aspect of any learning experience or learning tool. Without clearly defined learning objectives, it is hard to measure or evaluate whether learning is happening, or what the learning outcomes are. Educational apps must have learning objectives so parents can assess whether their children have learnt or not. The STEM Buddies app, for example, has clearly defined learning objectives for each topic designed by educational experts. Parents can access those learning objectives in the parents’ section. These learning objectives are age-appropriate and are aligned with the IB learning goals.
Active engagement in the learning process. This comes in many forms and ways. Children can be cognitively engaged in their own learning by relating the concepts to what they already know or experience. They can also be physically engaged by touching, swiping and interacting with the app. The children cannot be passively learning, they need to be engaged in their own learning for learning to happen. The STEM Buddies app has invested in making the content engaging and interactive. The children are engaged in their own learning journey by interacting with characters, answering questions and even solving puzzles and coloring pages.
Having a meaningful experience. Does the child relate to the content and what she’s learning? Is it relevant to the child and her current knowledge? Children need to be able to build on what they already know and create new connections to existing knowledge.
So what can parents do about this information and how can parents tell the difference? One of the best ways is for parents to look for apps that are certified by independent educational bodies like Education Alliance Finland (EAF), Educational App Store and Common Sense Media. These organizations either rate educational apps and/ or evaluate them based on teachers’ expertise and/ or parents’ advice and feedback. The STEM Buddies app is certified by EAF for pedagogical quality. EAF has evaluated to date more than 500 learning tools worldwide and has certified a number of apps based on their own independent expert evaluation and pedagogical framework. Other organizations have different methods for evaluation.
Other aspects to look for in a good educational tool are: age appropriateness, playfulness, simple and intuitive user interface for children. Preferably, kids should be able to use the app independently with little or no help from an adult. Children’s apps should also have no ads. Good reviews and ratings by users are also a plus. So before you download the next app for your child, do some research based on those tips to make sure you are indeed supporting your child’s development.