How educational are “educational” apps for young children? App store content analysis using the Four Pillars of Learning framework

Marisa Meyer, Jennifer M. Zosh, Caroline McLaren, Michael Robb, Harlan McCafferty, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Jenny Radesky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Experts have expressed concerns about the lack of evidence demonstrating that children’s “educational” applications (apps) have educational value. This study aimed to operationalize Hirsh-Pasek, Zosh, and colleagues' Four Pillars of Learning into a reliable coding scheme (Pillar 1: Active Learning, Pillar 2: Engagement in the Learning Process, Pillar 3: Meaningful Learning, Pillar 4: Social Interaction), describe the educational quality of commercially available apps, and examine differences in educational quality between free and paid apps. We analyzed 100 children’s educational apps with the highest downloads from Google Play and Apple app stores, as well as 24 apps most frequently played by preschool-age children in a longitudinal cohort study. We developed a coding scheme in which each app earned a value of 0–3 for each Pillar, defining lower-quality apps as those scoring ≤4, summed across the Four Pillars. Overall scores were low across all Pillars. Free apps had significantly lower Pillar 2 (Engagement in Learning Process) scores (t-test, p < .0001) and overall scores (t-test, p < .0047) when compared to paid apps, due to the presence of distracting enhancements. These results highlight the need for improved design of educational apps guided by developmental science.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Children and Media
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication

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