A recent meta-analysis by Kim and colleagues sought to evaluate the effectiveness of educational apps on learning for children in preschool through third grade. In this analysis, educational apps were defined as content delivered through personal electronic devices designed to improve literacy and mathematics. The meta-analysis demonstrated that:
- There were positive effects on student achievement in both literacy (ES = +0.35) and math (ES = +0.29) when compared with standard school instruction.
- The educational apps demonstrated stronger effects in preschool (ES = +0.35) than in school-age children (ES = +0.17) and were more associated with improvement in constrained skills, which are simple drill-and-practice facts like recognizing numbers and letters (ES = +0.31), than unconstrained skills, which are more complex tasks like solving math problems (ES = +0.14).
The authors also addressed several limitations in the interpretation of the findings. Perhaps most importantly, many of the apps included in the analysis were interactive, based on learning science principles, and focused on specific learning goals. There are a wide variety of educational apps available to schools and families (the authors cite a study from 2018 indicating over 200,000 education-related apps available in Apple’s App Store) and the findings of this meta-analysis would not necessarily apply to apps that are not as well-designed.
This analysis provides evidence that educational apps can be a useful and low-cost tool for schools and families, but also acknowledges limitations in their implementation as well as the need for more rigorous research evaluating their effectiveness.
Source: Kim, J., Gilbert, J., Yu, Q., & Gale, C. (2021). Measures matter: A meta-analysis of the effects of educational apps on preschool to grade 3 children’s literacy and math skills. AERA Open, 7(1). 1-19. Doi:0.1002/rrq.323.