Putting education in "educational" apps: lessons from the science of learning

Psychol Sci Public Interest. 2015 May;16(1):3-34. doi: 10.1177/1529100615569721.


Children are in the midst of a vast, unplanned experiment, surrounded by digital technologies that were not available but 5 years ago. At the apex of this boom is the introduction of applications ("apps") for tablets and smartphones. However, there is simply not the time, money, or resources available to evaluate each app as it enters the market. Thus, "educational" apps-the number of which, as of January 2015, stood at 80,000 in Apple's App Store (Apple, 2015)-are largely unregulated and untested. This article offers a way to define the potential educational impact of current and future apps. We build upon decades of work on the Science of Learning, which has examined how children learn best. From this work, we abstract a set of principles for two ultimate goals. First, we aim to guide researchers, educators, and designers in evidence-based app development. Second, by creating an evidence-based guide, we hope to set a new standard for evaluating and selecting the most effective existing children's apps. In short, we will show how the design and use of educational apps aligns with known processes of children's learning and development and offer a framework that can be used by parents and designers alike. Apps designed to promote active, engaged, meaningful, and socially interactive learning-four "pillars" of learning-within the context of a supported learning goal are considered educational.

Keywords: Science of Learning; apps; digital; early childhood education; education; media.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cell Phone / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Internet / statistics & numerical data*
  • Learning*
  • Mobile Applications / trends*
  • Science / education*
  • Television