by Brian Sharp
With nearly 1 million education apps available today, how can pre-K-12 educators leverage this vast amount of content to support the individual needs of students?
Increasing investments in mobile computing devices such as Chromebooks and tablets are driving significant growth in the education apps market. As schools spend more money and students spend more time on mobile devices, there are a few critical elements to ensure an “education” app is actually educational.
1. An education app should meet the same high standard as any other educational content
A key benefit of education apps is that they can engage and motivate students. The problem is too many apps place the primary focus on engagement rather than learning. If an app is well designed around a specific instructional objective, students can achieve positive learning outcomes. Not all apps, however, are based in sound pedagogical theory. Some market themselves within the education category but require little more than swiping or tapping a screen around a weakly formed instructional objective. While an app can integrate play to increase engagement, the idea of “fun” shouldn’t blind the educator to the importance of its ability to produce the desired learning outcome.
Research has shown that students’ enjoyment of a learning game doesn’t automatically mean learning success. In a 2016 article, Nina Iten and Dominik Petko reported that in the realm of “serious games” -- an active, problem-solving, social form of learning with rapid, differentiated feedback that also promotes the enjoyment of learning -- anticipated enjoyment played only a minor part in students’ desire to play the learning game and their willingness to learn. Of greater importance was their expectation that the game would be easy to comprehend and help them learn.
Taking this idea further, education apps that incorporate elements of deliberate practice can also be very beneficial to student learning. Deliberate practice is defined as intense practice or a regimen of effortful activities to achieve expert ability. To promote deliberate practice, education apps should incorporate goal setting, focus, feedback, coaching, and reflection. This “loop” of activities gives students the opportunity and the means to take control of their learning.
2. It should eliminate the potential for cognitive overload.
Education apps can also produce emotions other than enjoyment, such as frustration or irritation, which are not conducive to learning. In some cases, the bells and whistles designed to capture students’ interest and increase their enjoyment can have the opposite effect. For example, apps that contain excessive amounts of noise or movement, or activities that are not related to the instructional objective, can distract students and disrupt their learning.
Thus, it is crucial to keep extraneous elements to a minimum while increasing the germane cognitive load, e.g., the learning objective. Toward that end, mobile learning content should demonstrate clear learning outcomes while emphasizing clarity and ease of use. Educational apps should have clean design elements, simplified engagement, and linear movement, all of which contribute to a focus on the learning objective.
3. It should meet the unique learning needs of each individual
Educators have a wide array of choices and so should consider apps that target the individual needs of each learner. But how can teachers quickly access and deliver the right content to the right student at the right time? Using an online platform that supports managing mobile content, educators can easily source, assign, and monitor a student’s progress across all of their education apps. By streamlining the ability to leverage the most relevant mobile content for a student, the promise of a more personalized learning experience begins to take shape.
That experience can become even more powerful when platforms work together. By linking a mobile learning platform with formative assessment software, an online individualized education plan (IEP) program, or a standards-based gradebook, teachers can simply click a button and produce a list of recommended apps to support the personalized learning needs of their students.
With the right education apps, schools can realize the potential of personalized learning that tablets and Chromebooks can offer and make the most of their investment in these devices. When apps have an instructional focus, employ sound pedagogy, and are coupled with elements of engagement and a clean design, they can support the achievement of learning outcomes. Further, by combining apps and linking them to targeted skill development goals, educators can form a cohesive, meaningful, and appropriate learning experience for each and every one of their students.
Brian Sharp has 20 years’ experience in senior management with edtech companies. He is the CEO of SmartEdTech (SmartEdTech.com), a mobile learning platform that gives preK-12 educators the ability to more easily establish an individualized mobile learning experience for students.
The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.