Educational Apps for Kids: The Science Behind The App

Educational Apps for Kids: The Science Behind the App

At Lighthouse Learning we’ve heard parents’ and teachers’ doubts about the educational benefits of kids apps – it’s a hot button issue and with the science not yet in place, are we really ready to say yes to educational apps for kids?

Do Educational Apps Really Work?

Well, the sceptics will say no – they argue that kids who use touch devices won’t fully grasp concepts because they’re missing out on real world learning. James Gibson, a perceptual psychologist, calls the type of learning that requires experience of the real world ‘affordances’; so what the soft grass affords a child is different than what the bouncy castle affords the child. Some feel that because apps can’t recreate these ‘affordances’, they aren’t offering good learning.

Sceptics will also mention ‘scaffolding’ and ‘individualization’. Most often used by teachers, these techniques involve providing increasing challenge plus support to create structured and personalized learning. It’s often claimed that since kids use apps independently, they’re missing out on the structure and personalization that teachers provide.

However, we think the sceptics are misguided; we believe that educational apps can be integrated into a mixed diet of tools to help enrich kids’ learning experiences and ultimately improve academic achievement.

Evidence for Parents and Teachers

Research is currently inconclusive; there just isn’t enough research on kids’ educational apps yet. But when we look at broader studies, we can see the educational effectiveness of technology generally, which we believe applies to educational apps.

We’ve looked at two studies. Firstly, a Nordic Ministries of Education study shows that an increase in technology generally within the classroom improves academic standards [1]. This is a good sign – we firmly believe that intelligent use of technology can really impact children’s learning. What’s more, with Common Core Standards designed with new technology in mind, and the increasing adoption of tablets in schools, integrating apps into education has already become best practice.

In a recent study published in the Educational Research Review (June 2013), the authors compared previous studies on mathematics education to show that educational technology overall had a positive effect on academic achievement [2]. Math can be a tough subject for many kids and, for a long time, digital learning tools have helped cut through the difficulties of teaching and learning math. The latest explosion in apps is the hottest in a long line of edtech developments – and we’re at the cutting edge!

But there’s more, educational apps are a tool that can be used with a wide variety of teaching techniques – and they offer a compelling solution for student empowerment.

Take the argument that surrounds ‘technology’ v. ‘real world’ – we think a little common sense is needed here. It’s not a choice between one or the other; kids need a combination of learning experiences. There are a multitude of educational tools that work really well in a digital or virtual format e.g. a clock, weighing scales, an abacus, or building blocks.

No one should ever rely on one tool to help a child learn all the things they need to know. Instead, an approach is needed where different teaching and learning methods go hand in hand with the right technology. For example, the ‘flipped classroom’ approach uses instructional content such as video for homework while lessons are free for hands-on teaching instead of lecturing – a testament to how technology can be blended intelligently into education. We think that kids deserve rich and varied learning so our apps are designed to be used as part of a wider educational experience. This is how all other educational technology has been used to best effect up until now, and the iPad is no different.

Introducing Shape Arts: Geometry Creations

Our apps deal directly with arguments surrounding scaffolding and individualization too. Teachers have been combining technology with other activities (‘blended learning’) for many years, often using software to help increase personalization. In fact, many teachers are already using our apps in their classrooms. We know that every child and parent is different, and we’ve designed our apps with this in mind. Our first app provides sequenced, developmental learning with support features, and our second app allows open-ended, creative learning as an extension. Learners can progress independently at their own pace or with guidance and interaction from an adult.

The apps even include a helpful tips and suggestions page specifically for adults, giving the parent or teacher the most up-to-date advice on how best to use the app. Give it a read, it’s sure to give you some great ideas on how to support your child.

So parents, no need to worry, the evidence suggests educational apps really will benefit your child’s learning. And most of you already agree – 53% of US parents of 6-8 year olds think that apps improve a child’s math ability, and 59% think the same about reading! [3]

  1. Impact of ICT on education
  2. The effectiveness of educational technology applications for enhancing mathematics achievement in K-12 classrooms: A meta-analysis
  3. Parenting in the Age of Digital Technology