How to check if an ‘educational app’ for your child has the potential to promote learning

Categories: School of Health and Society

Researchers have developed a user-friendly tool that can be used to assess whether apps for preschool aged children have the potential to teach them new skills. 

Dr Gemma Taylor and Dr Joanna Kołak

Academics from the University of Salford and Lancaster University, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, have developed tools for evaluating the educational potential of children’s apps in a paper published in the Journal of Children and Media

These tools were developed for different audiences and include a questionnaire for caregivers and educators to evaluate the educational potential of an app, as well as coding criteria for quantifying app features aimed at researchers.  

The tool for caregivers and educators is the first app evaluation tool which is grounded in child development theory, linked to research on children’s experience with digital media and has been reviewed by app developers, early years educators and caregivers. 

Dr Gemma Taylor, Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Salford, said: “We argue that to be called educational, apps should have a clear learning goal targeting early skills development, such as teaching sounds, letters, numbers, shapes or teaching about emotions.” 

Dr Joanna Kołak, Research Assistant from the University of Salford, added: “Learning within an app should also be relevant to real life and offer children problems to solve that promote reasoning, thinking and creativity.” 

The tool aims to help caregivers and educators to select apps for their children. It works by simply playing the app for five minutes, then evaluating it against the 10-item tool, which includes items such as learning goals, meaningful learning, and problem solving.

The paper also reports that researchers using the evaluation tools have found that free and paid apps do not differ in terms of their educational potential, but they do vary in terms of the number of attention-gathering features that they contain. This means that investing money in paid apps does not guarantee higher learning potential compared to free apps.

The research also involved Dr Sarah Norgate who was formerly a Reader in Applied Developmental Psychology at the University of Salford during the research, and Professor Padraic Monaghan, Professor of Psychology at Lancaster University. 

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