Apps As Learning Tools: A Systematic Review

Pediatrics. 2020 Jan;145(1):e20191579. doi: 10.1542/peds.2019-1579.


Context: Young children have increasing access to interactive applications (apps) at home and at school. Existing research is clear on the potential dangers of overuse of screens, but there is less clarity around the extent to which interactive apps may be helpful in supporting early learning.

Objective: In this systematic review, we present a narrative synthesis of studies examining whether children <6 years can learn from interactive apps.

Data sources: The PsycInfo, PubMed, ACM Digital Library, and ERIC databases were searched.

Study selection: Studies were included if the study design was randomized or nonrandomized controlled (quasi-experimental), the sample mean age was <6 years, the intervention involved children playing with an interactive app, and academic, cognitive, or social-emotional skill outcomes were measured.

Data extraction: Of 1447 studies, 35 were included.

Results: Evidence of a learning benefit of interactive app use for early academic skills was found across multiple studies, particularly for early mathematics learning in typically developing children. Researchers did not find evidence of an intervention effect for apps aiming to improve social communication skills in children with autism spectrum disorder.

Limitations: Risk of bias was unclear for many studies because of inadequate reporting. Studies were highly heterogenous in interventions, outcomes, and study design, making comparisons of results across studies difficult.

Conclusions: There is emerging evidence to suggest that interactive apps may be useful and accessible tools for supporting early academic development. More research is needed to evaluate both the potential of educational apps to support early learning, and their limitations.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / psychology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Communication
  • Educational Status
  • Executive Function
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Mathematics / education*
  • Mobile Applications*
  • Reading*
  • Social Communication Disorder / therapy
  • Video Games*