Just for funsies this morning I searched on Amazon for the word “educational” under the Apps & Games category. More than 20,000 “educational” apps popped up. I did the same search on the Google PlayStore. Results popped up and I began scrolling down. I never did reach the end of the list.
As a 21st century parent, I want to use technology wisely. If my kids are going to be immersed in a technological world, I want them to get the most out of the good technology that exists. But this morning’s search, and recent academic commentary, has me convinced that as of today we simply don’t know which apps can rightfully be called “educational” and which are called that simply for marketing purposes.
One of the industry’s largest academic publishers recently published a book called, “Media Exposure During Infancy and Early Childhood.” Many of my researcher colleagues wrote chapters for this book, and as I opened the book I expected to find all sorts of research showing that educational apps can be beneficial for children. What I found, however, was 19 well-written chapters of research showing what should makes apps “educational,” but very little research that actually tests the educational value of apps.
In other words, when parents ask me which apps they should get for their kids, there is hardly any research that exists upon which I can offer an intelligent response. We simply don’t know. I can share my hunch about which apps are good. For example, based on our research with the Daniel Tiger TV show, it’s a good bet that the Daniel Tiger app can help teach kids social and emotional skills. But we don’t have any published research yet showing that this is actually the case. These sentiments were recently echoed in a piece about technology in the classroom in the Dallas Morning News by some highly respected children and media scholars.
So, what’s a parent to do? Until we have more research, parents are left to anecdotal evidence from their own or others’ kids about what kids have learned while playing with apps. So, I pose the following questions to you—which apps have helped your kids learn what skills? If you could have research on any children’s “educational” app, what would the app be and what would you want to know? And if you were to design an app, what would you want it to teach?
I don’t mean for this post to be depressing, and I wish I could provide research-based suggestions on what apps you could comfortably let your child use. We’re working on a study right now that is addressing this question, so stay tuned. Until then, it’s up to us parents to do our best to pay attention to what our kids are learning from apps and to share what we observe with each other.