Education has come into the digital age. Can you believe there are already 74,000 educational apps available for iPhones and iPads—and the number keeps growing. Even more startling, 72% of the top selling apps are designed for preschool or elementary children. There is no denying that learning with iPads is here to stay. Sadly, the market is filled with low quality ‘edutainment apps’ that obscure many worth-while experiences for children.
The promise of digital education is great. There are marvelous programs such as the apps from Montessorium and the activities from Khan Academy. These programs allow children to act as agents of their learning experience. A child takes ownership and pride in his or her accomplishments with these high-quality programs.
Unfortunately, parents have a difficult time finding these superior activities in the haystack of bingo-math-cute-bunny-video-game-type drill activities. At their core, these types of learning-blaster apps create a demotivating, passive learning experience. Rather than genuinely internalizing their learning, children are led through programs and rewarded by tokens, beeps or other external rewards. Here is an example of typical, but misguiding game design: an award-winning software company brags that your child is “motivated to continue learning by ABCmouse.com’s Tickets and Rewards System.”
Creators of these programs don’t seem to understand the key insights of Montessori education. That is, “tying extrinsic rewards to an activity [like tokens, tickets or money] negatively impacts motivation to engage in that activity when the reward is withdrawn.” Angeline Lillard, The Science Behind the Genius, 2005.
It is sad to see that so many educational app makers seem compelled to offer more flash than substance. And we know that that the hyper-stimulus of electronics can impede the development of qualities such as patience, calm and persistence. These skills are absolutely necessary for genuine learning and development to take place. Have app makers thought about how these essential skills get learned?
What criteria should parents use when selecting educational apps for their children? Look beyond the arcade-style apps that allow children to rack up points. Choose apps that allow them to be active agents in the learning process, encourage quiet perseverance, and inspire. Just like the classic ‘physical world toys’ that offer open-ended play like Legos and Lincoln Logs, high quality, child-friendly apps will be the ones your child will return to again and again.
At Evergreen School, we see the great potential for technology in the classroom. Yet we are very selective about which materials, books and apps are appropriate for our older students. After all, the facts our children know may seem important, but it is their attitude about learning that will matter most in the long term.
John DeMarchi is the Head of Evergreen School, a Montessori school for children age 2 to grade 3. Evergreen is located between Kensignton, Silver Spring and Wheaton on Georgia Avenue. They are holding an admission Open House on Friday, November 16 from 9 to 11 am. Learn more here.