If you peruse the App Store, you’ll find thousands of apps that claim to be educational. But do these apps really promote learning? Or is the word “educational” just thrown in to make them more appealing to teachers and parents?

As you know, it depends. Teachers need to be able to determine which apps are worth their students’ precious time. A team of experts examined this question and published their findings in Psychological Science in the Public Interest. The findings, published here, present four pillars that lead an app to an educational outcome. These pillars are active involvement, engagement, meaningfulness, and social interaction.

  • Active involvement means the student is required to actually think. Too many apps are largely brainless, addicting games. A truly educational app requires the student to actively work to understand a worthwhile concept or skill. Giving students the ability to make decisions as they engage with the app is a key component. According to the research, "Well-designed software affords children an appropriate level of control and agency depending on their age and experience, allowing them to proceed at their own pace and sustain their interest."
  • Engagement refers to a student’s ability to stay on task. The bells and whistles that make an app exciting should all be related to the educational goal. If these features are just for fun, they’ll distract the student from learning. Structured feedback and progress monitoring greatly assist with engagement. Researchers found that, "By carefully structuring the feedback as well as allowing progressive access to content (e.g., presenting more advanced content through a series of game levels or adaptively, based on user profiles), apps can focus children’s attention on the app experience and extend engagement for a long time."
  • Meaningfulness refers to how students are required to process new information. Studies have shown that deeper learning takes place when students relate new knowledge to their current knowledge. Educational apps promote these kinds of connections. As stated in the article, "Learning meaningful information motivates children to stay engaged and on task. If children are given causally rich information about a novel object, they will stay engaged in a boring task that rewards them with this information."
  • Finally, it’s important that the app facilitates social interaction. When students interact with others about what they’ve learned, their understanding of the material is reinforced. As the article states, "Active, engaged, meaningful, and socially interactive experiences support learning, and if these concepts are harnessed within apps, the potential benefit for learning in early childhood is significant."

Read Naturally’s apps and programs are educational in every sense of the word. All of our software programs and tablet-ready tools, the Read Live suite, One Minute Reader HomeSplat-O-Nym, and Funēmics, strongly integrate each of these four pillars.

For example, our Read Naturally Live program requires students to be actively involved with the material. As students work through the Read Naturally Strategy, they’re required to think critically and work hard toward a learning goal. They decide which story to read and are able to progress at their own pace in an appropriate level of material. The structured steps of the program keep them actively involved in each task.

The program's high-interest content and motivating strategy keep the students engaged and on task. Built-in progress monitoring, consistent feedback, and the motivation to progress to more advanced content ensures that students remain engaged as they work through the steps of the program.

Read Naturally Live also promotes meaningful thinking. Students make reading predictions and answer comprehension questions that require them to connect their personal experience to what they’re learning. High-interest, nonfiction stories ensure students are consistently learning novel and exciting information.

And finally, Read Naturally Live requires social interaction with teachers and parents. Placement, goal setting, hot timings, reports, and more connect the student with teachers and parents to ensure the student’s learning is supported and solidified. Students are inherently motivated by their own progress within the program. This motivation is enhanced when they celebrate their success with parents and teachers.

One Minute Reader HomeSplat-O-Nym, and Funēmics integrate these four pillars in similar ways, as do the other programs in our Read Live suite: Word Warm-ups Live, One Minute Reader Live, and Read Naturally Live--Español.

We’re hopeful that the Psychological Science in the Public Interest findings will help educators make informed choices about app purchases, and we’re pleased with how well our programs align with the research. Check them out and see for yourself! We offer a 60-day free trial of Read Live, and it's never too late to get started. Read Live contains four programs in one: Read Naturally Live, Word Warm-ups Live, One Minute Reader Live, and Read Naturally Live--Español