Learning by App – Report

Posted on: Friday 03 July 2015 6:56am by Heather McDaid


  • Children under 3 years old use tablets very differently to those over 3.
  • You should let children’s imaginations run wild – don’t restrict them, encourage them.
  • There are thousands of education apps that need curation.
  • Games can also help learning, even without meaning to.


Apps are becoming a ubiquitous item for most things, from paying for parking to idly passing time by matching fruits to one another, so it’s natural that over time, they’ve been used for children’s education. But how does that work? Does it work? Each panel member takes a few minutes to talk about their own experience in the field to shed some light on the topic. Some key points:

Professor Jackie Marsh, from the School of Education at the University of Sheffield discusses pre-school use of apps through a study, that surveyed 2,000 parents of children 0-5 years old, who have a tablet in the home. There were then further case studies involving specific children and particular apps.

They found that in 0-2 year olds, 27% of boys owned a tablet, and 23% of girls, rising to 40% and 32% respectively in 3-5 year olds. The younger bracket used tablets for creative activities during the day, where their parents read bedtime stories at night from it; the older children had educational use during the day, and games at night. Jackie concludes that fostering play and creativity through app design can facilitate learning effectively as it promotes engagement and creative thinking.

night zoo keeperNext, Joshua Davidson, a magical zookeeper comes to chat. Well, for context: he founded The Night Zookeeper, an app that encourages children to create their own animals that will live in his zoo, and then write stories about them. Where so many apps have restrictions in character creation, this doesn’t: “You should let children’s imaginations run wild.”

His app takes points from the national curriculum for the writing tool. The biggest challenge is giving prompts so children keep writing and exploring their imagination. They’ve done this by not only encouraging them to write about one creature, but create more, and write about those of their friends’ ones. You create a huge complex world of kids cross-referencing each others works. Teachers can also follow updates, checking up on their class’s work. It’s being made into several different formats, one of which is a book, and shows no sign of slowing its expansion.

educational app storeJustin Smith, founder of the Educational App store, begins with an anecdote on how he was a passive learner. At the development of the internet, he saw a lot of information being available to young people and it made them question, where he was just told what he should learn. Education apps are in their infancy, but there’s a need for curation, with 250,000 out there already.

“That’s where we come in,” he says. Teachers will come in and check, and verify the content. Education needs it as its the 2nd top genre of iOS, and 4th in revenue, estimated at $1.5-2bn. They do this with the four Cs: communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration, and compare each to the national curriculum, forming the start of what will hopefully curate education apps as they continue to grow and hone their craft.

Finally, Ben Courtney of Preloaded talks about games. He talks about the games he grew up with and how, in abstract ways, he learned from them – one in which you just had to type super fast, others set in various points of history. They may be completely inaccurate, but they spark an interest in eras and subjects.

Games can… kindle curiosity about a subject, train or drill in a skill and get players to engage with a way of thinking. The last is his personal favourite. “I don’t believe in the spectrum from fun to learning,” he says, as learning can – and should – be fun.

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Heather  McDaid

About the author

Heather McDaid

Society of Young Publishers Scotland, Blogger & Social Media

Heather is a freelance culture writer, book blogger and Publishing Masters student, currently assisting some publishers with marketing and editorial work. After completing her dissertation later this Summer she is keen to continue full-time in the field, looking to pursue a career in publishing in Scotland. She joined the Society… Read more