Educational software is nothing new. Once computers hit classrooms all over the U.S. (and the world), educational publishers went to work to develop software that could be used to enhance student learning. Mostly, these were in the form of discs that were purchased, inserted into desktop computers, and used to supplement the curriculum at each grade level, K-12.
We’ve come a long way since then. Students now have tablets and smart phones, and download apps of everything from music, to games, to favorite retailers and more. They are tech savvy and want to use their mobile devices for everything.
Why not educational apps that they can access anywhere, anytime, whether they are in the classroom or not? This is the path that educational software is now taking. And publishers are fast developing apps in the following areas:
Courseware Supplements: Whether the course is on the ground or in cyberspace, a lot of educators are developing apps that supplement te in-class content delivery and activities.
Assisted Instruction: These are apps that provide remedial or enrichment activities that go along with regular course content in the classroom
Assessments: Pre- and post-testing is a critical feature to determine initial mastery, structuring learning on an individualized basis, and then providing summative evaluations the demonstrate mastery of course content and skills.
Specific Niche Apps: Students who need to study for a driver’s test, master keyboarding, or learn a foreign language can now access apps for those purposes.
Building an Educational App for Today’s Student Consumer is Tough
It’s a tough audience. These are kids who play sophisticated games, who spend a huge amount of time on social media, who use their devices for everything from communicating with friends, to listening to music, to shopping, and, yes, to accessing news and information for personal and schooling needs.
And they demand that they be engaged and “entertained” while they do all of this. It’s a tall order for an app developer.
Steps in App Development
If you are looking to develop an educational app, your major concern is not the actual technology of the development at this point. Your concerns are educational. Here are the steps in your process:
Establish Your Goals
What are the learning outcomes that you want for your student users? Like any educator, you begin with these, and then plan your course around them. You will have units – smaller chunks of content and skills that you want to deliver in some way.
Plan the Activities
What types of activities will you incorporate to deliver the content and skills to your users? And what features will you use to deliver them in engaging ways? Be aware that kids today will demand a lot of interaction in environments that the find “valuable.” Here are some of the features that you will need to think about incorporating:
How can you integrate social networking, so that students can collaborate and network with other users?
How can you incorporate videos and live streaming? Having lessons delivered in this format are far more easily digested by today’s student consumer.
Are there AR and VR elements that can be used, such as those they experience in gaming?
How about leaderboards? Being competitive and seeing their scores in relation to other users is a big motivator.
Do you need multi-language features for an international audience? This can always be added at a later time, as you expand your reach.
What types of quizes and surveys will you incorporate in each unit?
How will you let students track their progress and achievement and yet not alter that data, so that they have proof of mastery if required.
Do you want cloud streaming so that group activities and projects can occur among “study buddies” and can occur during non-school hours?
How about music? If you have done your research, you know the genres of music that are most appealing to the age group for whom the app is to be built. You can find a huge selection from sources, such as Melody Loops where your subscription will give you access to royalty-free use of music packages. It’s great for introductions of units and activities and small break times in the instructional process.
Check Out the Most Popular Educational Apps on the Market
If you want to get a feel for how learning is structured in an app environment and how some or all of the above features are incorporated into app design and development, it will important to carefully study the educational apps, particularly in your instructional niche, that are already on the market and that are the most popular with student users in the age group you are targeting. You will pick up great ideas that will get your “creative juices” flowing.
Create a Map for Your App
This is a difficult and often tedious step, but it is critical, if you are going to be able to codify what it is you want your app to do for kids.
You will need to specifically describe the learning activities you will be incorporating in each unit of instruction and the features/elements of design and development you want to use for each activity. You will need to set up assessment points as well, and the types of assessments you wish to use.
You cannot begin to speak with a developer until this is in as much detail as possible.
Find Your Developer
Technology is a wonderful thing, and there are some great tools out there for developing apps. If you have the time and want to begin a rather steep learning curve, you can certainly learn how to develop your own apps. Your other option, of course, is to find an experienced and skilled developer.
You will need to discuss your project with several developers before selecting one that seems to be a fit” for your needs. You certainly want one that will keep you in the loop as the development progresses and who is willing to provide you with each piece of the software for your review and approval as it moves forward.
Educational apps are part of the future of teaching and learning. Students want access to learning tools on demand, whether they are in the classroom or at home. They want immediate access, and they want apps that will engage and motivate. Educators have a way to meet the needs of today’s learners – by realizing that it is a product and a service just like any other on the market.