How Do You Find Good Educational Apps?

| September 27, 2011 | 27 Comments
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schnaars

There are a lot of amazing new educational apps out there, whether you’re looking for native apps or Web apps, apps for your mobile phone, for your tablet, or for your laptop. There a number of app stores too where you can find and download them: Apple’s iTunes and its Mac App Store, the Amazon Appstore, Google’s Android Market, the Chrome Web Store, the Google Apps Marketplace, GetJar, and so on.

These app stores all offer products in a designated education category, ostensibly designed to make it easier to locate apps for learning and studying (as opposed to apps for productivity or for entertainment, although sometimes these categories do overlap). But having an education category doesn’t necessarily make it easier to locate quality apps, as any cursory search there will quickly show you. Apps for teaching pre-schoolers the alphabet are grouped alongside those for studying calculus or human anatomy. Spanish for Beginners flash cards are found next to GRE test preparation.

When you’re spending money on these apps, those $1.99 charges add up.

Take, for example, a look at the educational apps in iTunes. The category highlights the top paid and top free apps, that is, listing them in terms of download and sales numbers. It also features “New and Noteworthy” applications, as well as “Staff Favorites.” But these are a wide variety of apps: Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream for your iPhone and an interactive Winnie the Pooh e-book.

This problem with very broad categorization exists outside the education category, too. If you search, say, for “science,” you’ll get some science magazines, some reference apps, and some not-safe-for-work results too.

iTunes does offer a ratings system, as do all the major app stores, whereby users can give apps zero to five stars and can write detailed reviews of their experiences with the app. But this too is frequently an unreliable way to discover new and interesting applications. Oftentimes, like websites such as Yelp, those who leave these reviews have either had terrible experiences with the app (“It crashes every time I use it”) or rave about it uncritically (“This is my preschooler’s favorite app.”) Too often, there are so few reviews, it’s hard to know whether customers’ responses are typical or not.

Although sites like the Google Apps Marketplace do try to help the review process by highlighting those tools that have been reviewed by a “Verified User” (in other words, by a real customer rather than a fictitious account created just for the purposes of boosting ratings), these ratings aren’t weighted more heavily or any differently than anonymous reviews. An app can have 20 anonymous five-star reviews, and without a closer look, it’s easy to mistake that as something better than an app that’s got only five reviews, but all from verified accounts.

The alternative, of course, to searching through App Stores and taking your best guess based on the review information there is to rely on the recommendation of people you know. Indeed, word-of-mouth remains one of the most important ways that developers can sell and buyers can find quality applications. Several educational blogs write detailed reviews of new educational apps, and sites like Moms With Apps try to showcase “family-friendly” developers’ work. And while “caveat emptor” holds true in app purchases as with anything you buy, one has to wonder if there aren’t better ways to help showcase quality apps.

It’s one thing, of course, when the applications are free. If you download a new educational game and you find that it’s not fun and not smart, it’s easy to simply delete it. But the stakes are higher once you’re looking at spending money on these apps (those $1.99 charges add up), particularly since the return policy for app marketplaces is limited: Android apps can be returned within 15 minutes, but iOS apps are non-refundable.

Readers, how do you find quality educational apps? What changes would you make to the app stores to give consumers better information, particularly when it comes to educational apps?

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  • Jordy Whitmer

    1. Find a small group of educators to learn with (in person or virtually)
    2. Complete this activity – http://balancedtech.wikispaces.com/Apps+Taskonomy
    3. Create your own page similar to this – http://balancedtech.wikispaces.com/ipad
    4. Iterate

  • Timothy Smith

    We, of course, are working on these same ideas. This Thursday (Sep 29th) we are hosting an open access webinar where we all can gather and talk about this too. If interested we love a group to talk http://j.mp/RYWiAS is the website w/ our thoughts and link to webinar

  • http://twitter.com/jamesashchem James Ashenhurst

    Here’s the inverse of the same question: how do developers of educational mobile apps find their audience? We’d love to be able to have *just* people interested in chemistry find our app, but prospective customers have to wade through all the other education apps. 

  • Heather

    Thanks for bringing up this issue.  We saw a need for a place to easily find educational apps, so we recently launched Mind Leap.  http://www.mindleaptech.com  Please take a look – we rate apps based on their EDUCATIONAL VALUE.  Currently we focus on PK-Middle school and organized by subject.  @twitter-134162706:disqus we are here to help you find your audience.  Contact us please. @mindleaptech:disqus

  • http://twitter.com/johncroftnorton John Norton

    I wonder if the star ratings system is so ubiquitous now that we mostly ignore it unless the site aggressively encourages us to rate (as Netflix once did). Amazon is the exception, I’d say.

    A dedicated site focused on quality reviews of ed apps might be doable. I quickly glanced at MindLeap (comment below) and it looks promising. With a little searching I found their ratings rubric – seems solid. Perhaps a link to it should be included on the “About Us” page. And who is “us”? A little more transparency seems in order when your ratings carry so much weight.

    PS: I agree. Math Motion rocks.

  • http://www.gwhizmobile.com Debbie Fales

    We here at gWhiz (www.gwhizmobile.com) are grappling with the same issue.  Our highly rated educational mobile apps appeal to a broad audience from kindergartners to college students to working professionals.  It is difficult to come up with a comprehensive marketing program given this diversity.  However, we believe the quality of our products will ensure our success.   

  • Lorraine Akemann

    This is Lorraine, Editor at Moms With Apps, and I agree that app discovery for credible educational material is one of the biggest issues facing this new media content. Our developer group makes an attempt to sort through the clutter by categorizing our apps by educational category (spelling, math, geography, art, etc.), and this directory of 1500+ apps (http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/moms-with-apps/id416039568?mt=8) is available as a free download. However, there does have to be a better way. As I wade through the developers I come across every day, I do have hope about some exiting solutions coming our way. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/siva.techined Siva Techined

    How do you find quality
    educational apps?

    The educational category is a huge ocean and it is very difficult
    to wade thru to find the apps that a parent want.  That is why there are several review sites
    providing information about the app before parents buy.  Twitter and FB are abuzz with the app news
    for children. There are tons of tech savvy parents/teachers out there giving
    their experiences with apps to help parents. An informed consumer/Parent can
    find a lot of info about many apps with a simple Google search. But this takes
    time and effort.

     

    We, at Technology in
    (spl) education (http://techinspecialed.com)
    specialize in apps related to the special needs kids.  Lack of classification of apps prompted us to
    create our popular list of apps by ‘IEP Goals/Skills’ for special needs
    children. We did this after reviewing hundreds apps for our own kid. They are
    classified based on the Skill and only apps that provides “Bang for the Buck’
    are included. We know this is only a tip of the iceberg. But we have to start
    somewhere. 

     

    Another way for
    parents to find good apps is thru ‘Moms with Apps’. This developer group runs
    promotions every Friday giving the parents an opportunity to download apps for
    FREE or Discounted prices. These apps are definitely safe & kid friendly, This
    is a big win-win for both developers and consumers. Consumers who are following
    these deals will get app at a discounted price if not FREE. Developers will
    gain lot of user base who in turn provide word of mouth advertisement for the
    developers if the app is good. 

     

     

    What changes would you make
    to the app stores to give consumers better information, particularly when it
    comes to educational apps?

     

    Education is a huge
    category and the apps can be for the baby to college students to professionals.
    They all fall under this category irrespective of the language or subject.  Every app needs categorization by subject,
    age, language, whether it is Ad supported, country intended and so on. This is
    just a sample of classification but more can be added. We are working with
    educators to see if we can come up with a list of criteria that can be
    published as a spec to all developers to use

  • Marit Olderheim

    We started MyPlayPlace with educational games on iPads in Gambia. To prove that technology can be the tool for an educational revolution in Africa. The
    children love it and learn quickly with the easy touch and go
    technology. We also saw the need to find the best educational apps and started the homepage http://www.Learnstein.com On Learnstein you can browse, comment and also suggest apps, for Appstore, Android Market, Youtube and Web.
    We have made it into categories and levels so it is easy to navigate.
    We hope you’ll browse, comment and suggest apps, so that we together
    can find great educational apps for the kids in Gambia and for all the
    children in the world.All feedback is appreciated as the page is under continues development. See you on Learnstein.com!

  • http://www.facebook.com/erica.russellwatson Erica Russell Watson

    @font-face {
    font-family: “Cambria”;
    }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: “Times New Roman”; }a:link, span.MsoHyperlink { color: blue; text-decoration: underline; }a:visited, span.MsoHyperlinkFollowed { color: purple; text-decoration: underline; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; }The Pocket Behaviour
    Trainer App is here!

    Pivotal Education’s
    Pocket Behaviour Trainer App- Available
    to download free!

    This App will provide teachers of all levels of experience
    with cutting edge and practical behaviour management advice at the touch of a
    button and will help you transform behaviour in your classroom. It includes
    tips, resources, video clips and up to the minute education news.

    Why not take a look and download The Pocket Behaviour
    Trainer! It is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad http://itunes.apple.com/app/pivotal-educations-pocket/id464884813?mt=8
     

  • http://www.facebook.com/erica.russellwatson Erica Russell Watson

    Pocket Behaviour Trainer App- Available
    to download free!

    @font-face {
    font-family: “Cambria”;
    }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: “Times New Roman”; }a:link, span.MsoHyperlink { color: blue; text-decoration: underline; }a:visited, span.MsoHyperlinkFollowed { color: purple; text-decoration: underline; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; }

    This App will provide teachers with cutting edge and
    practical behaviour management advice at the touch of a button and will help
    you transform behaviour in your classroom. It includes tips, resources, video
    clips and up to the minute education news.

    http://itunes.apple.com/app/pivotal-educations-pocket/id464884813?mt=8

     

    This App will provide teachers of all levels of experience
    with cutting edge and practical behaviour management advice at the touch of a
    button and will help you transform behaviour in your classroom. It includes
    tips, resources, video clips and up to the minute education news.

    Why not take a look and download The Pocket Behaviour
    Trainer! It is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad http://itunes.apple.com/app/pi
     

  • Drake Tellier

    Have you checked out Celly yet? It’s free, and no software is required. It runs over regular SMS text messaging or web (Android and iOS apps coming soon!). This means it will work with just about any phone. Hundreds of teachers and thousands of students are already using Celly as a mobile learning/classroom app. Check it out: http://cel.ly

  • Sarah Combs

    This is a huge problem facing parents as more and more families are actively downloading mobile content and finding it truly difficult to discover well-made, entertaining and educational apps for their kids. 

    I am an app reviewer for a company called Famigo that is working to address this exact problem. I have seen the enormous amount of apps that flood the marketplaces and how ineffective the search capabilities are, especially for families.

    We’ve come up with a solution. At Famigo.com, we curate, review and categorize apps in order to make it easy for families to discover great new content on both Android and Apple devices. Famigo.com highlights content that parents have expressed intrest in, such as: Easy to Use, Solid Interface and Good Challenge Range, as well as potentially dangerous features like Connects to Internet, Interaction with Strangers, and Contains Profanity.

    As for finding the exact app you’re looking for, our Power Search tool allows a parent to select what they’re looking for in an app. Notably, you can search for apps based on the specific age of a player, this solves the problem of having calculus apps appear next to educational apps for toddlers. 

    We’re hoping to make app discover easy for families, see how we’re doing at http://Famigo.com/

  • Shuaib

    The article poses an excellent question. It is not an easy process, but at eSpark Learning we think we have a good solution. Read the story of one of our teachers here: http://esparklearning.com/blog

  • http://esparklearning.com/ David Vinca @ eSpark

    The question and discussion is a great one.  Thanks for posting the thoughtful question.  It’s one that we at eSpark Learning care a lot about and have spent the last year thinking about and doing for students in our program.  We think that app selection should be highly personalized…here is our approach: 1) Assess student learning needs with rigorous academic adaptive assessments 2) Help students set an academic goal in an area they need to improve 3) Find a personalized list of apps that can help the student in that specific area of focus 4) Create a personalized learning plan that guides students through the apps in a specific sequence that is motivating and structured in a way to help students learn.  Ask students to report their scores and performance in apps 5) Measure and celebrate student success.  This formula has enabled eSpark elementary school students to grow more than 1 grade level in their goal domain in just eight weeks.  To learn more, check out: http://esparklearning.com/how-it-works

  • Andrew Gardner

    Interestingly, Apple has a decent list of Educational apps that they recommend here. http://www.apple.com/education/apps/  
    I find this a much better launching point than going directly to iTunes and searching in “education”

  • Paul Hamilton

    I made my Own!

    Hello

     

    My name is Paul Hamilton and I have been a teacher for 15
    Years and am currently an ICT Coordinator at an Independent School in
    Queensland, Australia. I’m passionate about ICT’s
    and working with 21st Century Learners.

     

    I have just created an app (Formative Feedback for Learning) that I am very excited about that
    I believe will transform how students receive feedback in a learning context in
    schools. It is now available on The APP store.

     

    Schools are using it in many contexts, as it is an App that focuses
    on learning process not content, therefore can be used in all curriculum areas.

     

    Here is the link if you would like to find out more.

     

    http://formativefeedbackapp.blogspot.com/

     

    Thanks for your time – I really appreciate it.

     

    Have a wonderful week.

     

    Paul Hamiltonformativefeedback4@gmail.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/alexandra.murashova Alexandra Murashova

    Isn’t it time to build your own app guys? I used snappii.com to make apps with no programming experience, and would recommend it to anybody

  • http://twitter.com/EducationalGame Nathalie van Ee

    There are many resources to find out about great educational apps. If you are looking for another great place, feel free to visit Fun Educational Apps. As a parent, I created Fun Educational Apps, a family app for kids review site, as a way to help parents, educators and teachers to discover great apps. Together with the kids, we try new apps on an ongoing basis. Either we find apps that sound great or we get contacted by app developers. Our goal is to share with you the ones that we liked, the ones that benefit kids’ education and the ones that catch kids’ attention. Our judgement is based on real trials of the apps we feature and only publish review of the one we liked and think are the best.(http://funeducationalapps.com)

  • Alexandra Kwc

    And I used http://snappii.com to make apps. It’s a web service that allows non-programmers make cool apps

  • http://www.GameDevelopersGuild.com/ Game Developers Guild

    You should also check out this easy app for kids to learn the capitals of the different countries in the world: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=kp.android.knowledgePets

  • http://www.fastcashcommissionsplus.com/ Rosalee Beaner

    Excellent infographic! We are at the beginning of the mobile revolution and with that come a boatload of opportunities. I had not even thought about affiliate marketing tactics on mobile. Thank you for posting this.

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    Awesome post, the majority of the material was tremendously worthwhile.

  • Martin

    What about Apparatus? I think it’s exactly what Seymore Papert means by Constructionism. http://constructingkids.wordpress.com/2012/11/29/review-apparatus-unlimited-sandboxing-android-app/

  • Concerned Teacher

    Unfortunately, our administration went with eSpark Learning, only to find the app barely works as expected. Several key features, like video feedback, do not work consistently, and reporting is amateur at best. The ipads that are setup for us were okay, but not like it was advertised. Upon speaking with our rep, we were told that more development to fix the issues were coming, but with no ETA. Most of their programming is farmed out of the country, only now are they trying to get in-house people. This is not the Pandora of Education, because Pandora works.

    Do your homework on your own, find what works for your kids, stay clear of eSpark. I do not see them lasting for too long. When the school year ends, we are dumping the service. Good idea, but terrible execution.

    Your mileage may very.

  • Karen M.

    A bit late to the party, but please check out http://www.BalefireLabs.com for reviews of educational apps based on their instructional quality.