Educational software is proliferating, and its producers work hard to entice both teachers and parents. Most software packages are drills that help students memorize information or learn a skill. Other software attempts to adapt to a student’s interests and performance, though this type of software is still in the early stages of its evolution.

Here are eight qualities to look for in educational software:

  1. Plain and simple interface. Are the key screens well-designed, and can students move from one activity to another? Navigation of the program should be intuitive for learners at the grade level the software is designed for, and icons should be intuitive.

  2. Meaningful, but not fancy, graphics. Graphics are only valuable if they support the educational intent. Otherwise, they’re a distraction.

  3. Easy exits. Most software contains far more information than a student can process. Make sure it’s easy for the student to exit a specific task—or even the entire program—before frustration sets in.

  4. Intelligent interactivity. Drag-and-drop ability and other things that require students to do something can enhance interaction and retention of information greatly.

  5. Speed. Students have short attention spans and enjoy fast-paced video games and television shows. Slow educational software will lose them, especially for schools that do not have superfast internet connections.

  6. Feedback loops. Good educational software provides some type of feedback to students and teachers that indicates a student’s progress. This information should be in an easy-to-understand format, such as bar graphs. Some software packages also may return the student to information on the topic with which he is struggling.

  7. Personalization. Students should be able to log into a system under their own name and retrieve their previous scores. Software also should perform some type of pre-screening of a student’s achievement level, so that subsequent work will be at an appropriate level.

  8. Information vs. instruction. Multimedia dictionaries and other reference materials are useful, but they are not educational by themselves. They must be used within a planned curriculum to achieve specific goals. Teachers will need to supply the interactivity to draw out the best use of these types of resources.