Educational Apps | Pros and Cons
According to NPR, 53% of American kids over 11 have their own smartphone, and 84% of American teenagers. But, with doctors and other professionals constantly reminding parents not to allow too much screen time, we want to be sure that at least some of the time our kids spend on screens is beneficial. And, now that apps have been around for a while, there is emerging data that educational apps have significant benefits and importance for kids.
I’m a child of the 70s and 80s myself, so even the computers at my college were sparse and extremely unsophisticated. We regularly used typewriters to complete our papers. Heck, we even had 15 tenants sharing two phone lines in a house. Can you imagine? The horror!
But, we have to remember that we have to contrast this with our kids. My sons really don’t remember life before smartphones and devices. They grew up with them. Expecting them to view technology as a “privilege” or treat is unrealistic. That’s like asking my generation to get excited over refrigerators. Though a new working refrigerator was a real treat to my grandmother, the first time they got one. It’s all relative.
There are many advantages and benefits to educational apps, whether it’s on a phone, tablet or laptop. (And yes, many laptops are moving toward using the word “app” instead of “program.”)
If you’re questioning whether or not educational apps have any real value, look no further. Here’s a great list.
Why Educational Apps are Important
Enhanced Parent/Caregiver Communication: No longer do we have to hope that our kids relay important information to us. Now we can check Schoology or PowerSchool ourselves and see. This can be a great tool for parents whose kids struggle with Executive Functioning issues and forget things. The adults can see the assignments themselves.
Maintain Updated Information: There’s still a place in our world for books. But now with apps, when information changes, the learning can be updated in the app. No need to rewrite, re-edit and reprint an entire book.
Kids Prefer Them: Apps and technology appeals to kids. And, fact is, they won’t be able to get a job in this century without knowing it. Learning how to use an app or coding with a fun educational game is low risk for the student, so they are more likely to try it out. But if you ask a student if they’d rather learn via a lecture or an app, they’ll pick the app most of the time.
Learning Can Be Individualized: In a classroom lecture, everyone receives the same information at the same time. Many educational apps have levels or segments, so it can be individualized. A student won’t move on to the newer content until they’ve mastered the previous content.
Increased Test Scores: There have been some studies that show students who consistently used learning apps scored better in some academic areas, particularly math.
Improved Comfort and Skill with Technology: Practice makes perfect. Not every child has access to technology at home. Using educational apps can help them learn technology in addition to the skill the app is designed to teach.
Progress on an App is Private: Technology may give students with learning a venue to learn that they cannot access in a traditional classroom environment. For example, there are apps that focus on helping dyslexic children to read and autistic children to develop social skills. Making progress individually, without judgement or classmates watch may be important for students who are self-conscious or have social anxiety.
What to Watch for When Using Learning Apps
Apps are great! But not without concerns. The important thing is balance–mixing apps with traditional learning.
Here are some things to watch out for, if you are concerned your child is spending too much time on learning apps.
Not Learning “Old School” Skills: Remember when it was a huge deal to use a calculator at school? (No? Just me? boy I am old!) But seriously, using a calculator was thought to be “cheating.” Now it’s calculators, spell check, grammar check, plagiarizing check and much more. No one memorizes phone numbers any more…that means we’re using our working memory skills less often. Make sure you include educational board games and other in-person activities to the mix. I’m not suggesting that we return to encyclopedias and card catalogs, but a school project should take more effort than “Hey Alexa….”
Less In-Person Interaction: An app doesn’t have emotions. It doesn’t get super excited when you finally succeed at something, nor does it give you a disapproving glance and throat-clearing when you are not paying attention, like parents and teachers do. Only getting impersonal feedback can desensitize a person to emotions and reaction. Or it can make them hypersensitive due to lack of practice reading pragmatics and body language.
Overstimulating and Distracting: Like any method of teaching, what works well for one may not for another. Some students may find the noise, colors and activities overstimulating and distracting.
Widens the Existing Gaps: We have huge disparities in our country when it comes to race, wealth, education and income. A child who has enough household income to have devices and apps at home, and parents comfortable helping them with it–is at a huge advantage compared to the child who is lower income, no devices or apps growing up and has parents or grandparents raising them who are not comfortable with technology.
Apps are Sedentary and Singular: There are very few apps that get played with as a group. Or, played with while standing, exercising, swimming, or running around. For the most part, the child is sitting and on the app by himself/herself. If it’s several hours a day, that can be a problem for both physical and emotional development.
Keep Time Balanced
To help your child be successful, make sure they have balance. Screen time and active time should be equal.
Ready to Try some Apps?
If you’re reading to try some apps, here are some great recommendations. Some of my lists were put together by SLPs, teachers, OTs and other Special Education Professionals.