How to Choose Educational Apps?

I’ve been fooling around in the app store a lot lately.  Maybe I have too much time on my hands, but I find it fascinating to see what is out there in the educational app world.

One thing that has me puzzled, though, is how to go about choosing from among the thousands of educational apps that are in there.  The information that the app store requires a vendor to provide is pretty lean…it’s just stuff about the features of the app, not really the benefits it is supposed to provide.  So I know about what devices the app runs on, the category it fits into, and usually there is a screenshot of two.

But in looking through the education category, it’s hard for me to tell what is educational about these apps.  I mean, what is my kid supposed to be able to do once she uses the app?  Is it educational or is it really just entertainment wrapped around some educational content that makes it seem educational?  Moreover, it’s so time-consuming to forage around in there.  I find that sometimes I just give up and buy something,  figuring I’ll just try it out.  But that’s pretty much hit-or-miss and even at $1.99 the purchases start to add up!

I’ve visited a number of app review sites to get input from those folks.  I’ve been surprised (and heartened) by how many well-intentioned teachers and parents there are out there trying to help the rest of us out.  It can be helpful to see what other people have used and liked.  But even those sites seem pretty subjective to me.

How do you guys decide what to buy when purchasing educational apps? What has your experience been and what has worked (or not worked) for you in making those purchasing decisions?  Any tips or tricks you could share would be really helpful to us all!  Let’s see if we can pull together a helpful list and I’ll publish it in another post!

Happy shopping and happy weekend!

About karen mahon

i am a behavior and learning scientist. i hold an ed.d. in educational psychology and am trained as an instructional designer. i have spent more than 15 years working in education and instructional software design.
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7 Responses to How to Choose Educational Apps?

  1. Erin says:

    I too, have been working on a project that requires me to evaluate apps and try to align them to Common Core State Standards. It is amazing to me what people are throwing together (albeit with the best intentions I am sure) and calling it “educational”. As a left-over from my days with an IWB company, I am constantly looking for educational relevance — what is the student being asked to do/learn/practice and how do I know that learning has actually taken place? I am also looking for ease-of-use, variety of practice opportunities and level/s of difficulty. In the short time I have been focused on this task, I am finding a gaping hole in this area! Hopefully we can get a list together that will help parents, teachers and technology directors in their search –as well as developers to know what kids of things should be included in an app so that it can be considered educationally relevant.

  2. krice12 says:

    Hi Karen – as a product manager of educational apps, I am also very interested in learning how parents/teachers/consumers choose the apps they want their kids to use. My team is amongst a sea of developers and it is so hard to cut through the clutter to make our apps seen, tested, and evaluated by the public. My employer, K12 Inc, prides itself on the rigorous content and being tied to research. But no matter how great the product is, there are thousands of others out there saying the same thing – some might be great, while others leave more to be desired.

    Erin – would love to see that list, and hopefully, make it onto the list 🙂 I would love for you to check out our offerings and provide any feedback you may have to

    K12 mobile site –

    iTunes –
    Google Play –
    Amazon Appstore –

    • karen mahon says:

      Hi Kelly- I think you exactly hit the nail on the head. Everyone out there is making basically the same claim. I had a very senior marketing person once tell me, “As long as it holds up in court, we can say it.” I was stunned. But what that boils down to is that marketing people can say just about anything they want to. It sort of doesn’t matter if it’s true, for those who are less-than-ethical. (I want to be clear that I know many, many marketing people who are careful and truthful in making their claims.) So it ends up that everyone says, “research-based, effective, fun, easy to use” and it’s very difficult to challenge.

      To me, the key is in educating the customer about what it means to be effective. I’ve reviewed thousands of pieces of digital content, but very few of the companies that offer them conduct effectiveness testing (as opposed to usability testing) prior to launch, and almost none offer a “money-back guarantee” that it will work in teaching kids. When everyone is saying the same thing, I think the companies that up the ante, put their money where their mouth is, and can show results of iterative beta testing for effectiveness will have a successful differentiation strategy.

      Thanks for participating in this conversation! I love having developers involved in this discussion!

  3. Debbie says:

    I couldn’t agree more. It can be difficult to be heard in such a crowded marketplace. At gWhiz, we believe in the strength of our mobile educational apps to rise above the fray. But getting the word out can be a daunting task. We have found that our loyal users (our biggest fans) are the key to building a dedicated audience, and we value their feedback immensely. Committed to excellence, we harness the power of mobile technology to create compelling, effective, and, yes, engaging applications for students from all walks of life.

    To find our more about gWhiz and educational apps, visit us at

  4. Rachel M. says:

    I use
    It’s a great resource for busy parents like us Karen, I used to spend hours finding apps for my daughters but not anymore.

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