Parents know that digital resources offer learning benefits, but they are skeptical about the products' educational claims.

A new learning ratings initiative will evaluate the learning potential of websites, video games, and mobile apps and will offer ratings and reviews to give parents, teachers, and students a guide to find resources to extend learning time, make learning fun, and build 21st-century skills.

Launched by Common Sense Media and social investment foundation SCE, the learning ratings are based on comprehensive research and a rigorous evaluation framework. The framework was developed after conducting interviews with academic experts, a literature review of key 21st-century learning skills, and research with national samples of parents and teachers, who voiced a real need for learning ratings like these.

Learning ratings and reviews are available now for more than 150 mobile apps, games, and websites, with more than 800 expected by the end of 2012. New digital media products now will be reviewed for learning potential as they enter the market, while earlier digital media reviews will be updated on an ongoing basis. In addition, Common Sense Media’s editors will be compiling special recommendation lists by age and subject or skill to help parents identify the products that best meet their kids’ and teens’ learning needs.

“As the digital world explodes, parents need help sorting the truly educational content from the content that’s slapped with an ‘educational’ label by marketers,” said James Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media. “Common Sense Media is uniquely positioned to provide this new level of guidance and expertise for parents, educators, and young people across the country.”

The learning ratings initiative builds on Common Sense Media’s media ratings and education programs — through commonsense.org and content partners, Common Sense Media already offers ratings on more than 16,500 titles and offers education resources to more than 26,000 schools in all 50 states and 67 countries.

A 2011 poll from Common Sense Media found that while many parents recognize that digital media can provide learning benefits, they are skeptical about the products’ educational claims. Common Sense Media’s learning ratings aim to address that problem by clearly communicating the learning potential of a website, game, or app, along with offering suggestions on how to get the most out of the user experience.

Reviewers analyze digital media products for core academic content like reading, math, and science, as well as deeper learning and social skills such as critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration. They also assess each product’s overall learning potential, looking both at how engaging it is and how it’s designed to support learning.

Visitors to commonsense.org and users of the Common Sense Media app now will see a new rating for learning at the top of each mobile app, video game, and website review. These icons appear in addition to Common Sense’s standard rating for age appropriateness and quality.

Under the tab “Learning Potential,” users see summary reviews of what kids can learn, what the product is about, how kids can learn, and how parents can help. Along with the summaries, a section called “Subjects and Skills” lays out both the core subjects and the 21st-century skills that the product addresses. The entire review culminates in an overall learning rating, ranging from “Not Meant for Learning” to “Best for Learning.” Common Sense will rate and review both products that were intentionally designed to be educational as well as conventional entertainment media.

“Kids love digital media, and they’re spending more and more time with it. But many parents aren’t sure how to help their kids use these tools to their full advantage,” said Susan Crown, founder and chairman of SCE. “Common Sense’s learning ratings will revolutionize how families and schools select digital media products. But we hope that this system will also motivate those in the entertainment industry to create even more high-quality learning media in the coming years, elevating the way we think about the learning potential of media and technology.”