E-Learning for Kids

A Story of A Nice Little iPad App

Having an academic background in social science and a career background in Training and Development, I have been keenly interested in the giant steps we have been taking toward e-learning and online learning systems. ‘We’, meaning the world.

No longer a novelty, learning something in front of your computer or electronic device is actually becoming more common (in my view) than learning from a live teacher or bound textbook.

I got an iPad 1 as a gift last Christmas, even though I wasn’t interested in buying one up until that point. Until then, I’d never been much of an Apple person, and I didn’t understand why I would need to carry an additional gadget around that seemed like some kind of over-sized game-playing iPod.

I installed zero apps for about the first 3 months, because I didn’t really know how (while the Apple world is user-friendly, one still needs to know the ‘Apple Way of Things’ --downloading and file procedures in the iTunes, buttons, where things disappear to, what decisions are made for you by the device or program, etc.) to make use of all that user-friendliness. I remained an unfriendly unengaged user, carrying around a fun new device for emailing and looking at the New York Times.

When I first got wind of how and why to download apps, the addictive game Angry Birds was (of course) my first download. Hours of brainless fun.And nearly as addictive as the game was the process of downloading (free, or very cheap) apps itself. Download, try, scrap, keep, rinse repeat.

Anyway, the category of apps I began to delve into with the most curiosity was ‘learning’ apps. Not sure if that’s the correct heading in the iTunes store, though. I was particularly interested in the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) preparation apps, many of which turned out to be, well, not bad, although distinctly limited by the designers’ apparent lack of pedagogy. (Hey who cares—it’s marketing!) Lots of repeating set phrases you would probably never use, without any true user engagement or sense of practical development.

Oh well, on to the real discovery. I started looking for something for my 4-year-old daughter. She is Japanese/English bilingual, and I want to make sure she has as much exposure to native English as possible. Living in Japan, she has tons of exposure to native Japanese, but much less to English, besides myself.

Anyway, I wanted to look for a learning app for her, but I didn’t want a 'game.'Then again, a game would be OK, as long as she was actually learning some real skills. I downloaded a couple of apps for kids, based on ratings and descriptions, and for the most part deleted them right away because of some unfortunate combination a lackluster interface, unclear learning targets, price or some other value-limiting issues.

One I ended up keeping for further review is called TeachMe: 1st Grade by a company called 24x7digital. I had a brief look at it, and it seemed cute, age appropriate well-thought out, and fairly professional. My daughter seemed to enjoy it, or at least tolerate it. I would just let her play with it on her own, often in another room, so I wasn’t sure how much she was really getting out of it.

Weeks later I discovered she had gone through all these various levels of question types (math, spelling, shapes, etc.), had amassed all these little prizes, learned to shop at a little store, improved her penmanship and just generally had a good time doing it. Most importantly, she had done all this without any supervision or guidance—she learned it all through the intuitive interface and just spending time with it. Way more than tolerating it, she was actually deeply engaged in this app!She has been playing it on and off for about 6 months, and she still enjoys it.

And she is truly learning (although in a specific range of skills) with the software.

LEARNING SUBJECTS:
• Sight Words: Dolch First Grade
• Addition
• Subtraction
• Spelling

There are a range of difficulty and reward settings you can make, as well as different types of prizes and stickers the kids can apply based on their choices. This is not a high-tech, hyper-dynamic noisy game, which is one thing that really attracts me. It is a quiet child-appropriate learning app.And the sound and graphics are all polished and virtually glitch free. One exception--the orientation flip (when the screen adjusts to place itself horizontally for the holder) doesn't engage on the start up/settings screen. A little annoying.

Anyway, I have been so impressed with this well-thought-out little app that I contacted the creators to give them kudos. If you have kids between the ages of say 3 and 6, (and of course an iPad or iPod Touch) I highly recommend you to check out this app for yourself. It doesn't seem to be available for Android as of this writing, but give them a shout and maybe they can make it happen.

Now if these 24x7digital guys would only create a truly great Learn Japanese app….

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