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Educational apps for early learners see huge jump

Educational apps have huge potential for today's students.

As mobile learning devices crop up in classrooms from coast to coast, the market for educational apps appears to be thriving, with educational apps for pre-schoolers and toddlers experiencing a huge jump over the past two years, according to a new report.

iLearn II: An Analysis of the Education Category of Apple’s App Store,” conducted by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, analyzed the “Education” category in Apple’s App Store in an effort to understand the educational apps market and possible emerging opportunities within that app category.

The report reveals that mobile app revenue is predicted to generate $38 billion by 2015, and Apple’s App Store has paid out more than $2.5 billion to developers. There are currently more than 500,000 apps available on iTunes and more than 300,000 available on Android, although this report examines only Apple’s App Store.

The study included 109 publishers within the sample of 196 apps, and was conducted in July 2011. The report updates a 2009 Cooney Center analysis on the same topic.

“In the two years since that study, the market for apps has grown at a breathtaking pace,” the author notes. “However, the field is emerging so quickly that empirical studies on the effectiveness of apps for learning have lagged behind, and learning apps for mobile devices have become a hotly debated educational technology topic… What is not up for debate is that today’s children would benefit if apps become an important force for learning and discovery.”

Fourteen percent of all the apps mentioned–or 27 apps–are intended for school use and include study aids, tools, and test prep.

When broken down by age category, the mention of apps intended school use is lowest for toddlers and pre-school students and is highest among middle school students.

While both devices follow similar age trends, data revealed that apps for toddlers and pre-school students are more prominent as iPad apps than as iPhone apps. Apps for elementary students peaked among iPhone apps.

The report includes several important recommendations:

  • Address the “app gap”
  • Create standards for products marketed as educational
  • Project children from digital-age commercialism
  • Consider emerging market dynamics in an update to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act
  • Enable sustainability and profitability
  • Set a research agenda


More than 80 percent of the top-selling paid educational apps in the Education category target children (toddler through high school).

In 2009, 47 percent of the top-selling apps were aimed at pre-school or elementary school children. That number since has jumped to 72 percent. The market has seen an increase in the percentage of apps for children in every category, and it has also seen a decrease in apps for adults.

Early learning educational apps for toddlers and pre-school children are especially prominent, and the report advises developers to consider potential saturation of the this market.

Of the top 25 best-selling apps, 60 percent target toddlers and pre-school children.

The App Gap

While apps hold much potential for education, recent studies, including a 2011 Common Sense Media study, note that more than one-third of low-income parents do not know what an app is.

Most technologies do experience a gap period, but the report notes that the app is likely to decrease in the future, making apps as accessible as traditional forms of media such as television and video game systems.

Developers should offer high-quality content in light of the amount of time that children devote to media consumption.

“Early learning is by far the most popular subject/skill-set, yet the children most in need of early learning interventions are not likely to have access to apps,” according to the report.

Recommendations for developers

The findings reveal a number of findings and recommendations that can help app developers target their educational apps and penetrate new markets.

Knowing how to promote an educational app can make or break the app’s success, because even the most useful and easy-to-operate app can become lost in an app store with hundreds of thousands of available titles.

“Creation is only half the battle” when it comes to children’s educational apps, and “discovery is fundamentally important.”

Taking tips from other app developers, the report’s recommendations for app marketing include:

  • Have a marketing plan in advance of your app launch.
  • Branding is important.
  • A social media strategy may help.
  • Establish a relationship with children’s tech bloggers and reviewers before releasing an app.
  • Cross-promotion can be effective.

“Ultimately, making an extraordinary app is key. But if great content isn’t discovered and downloaded, it’s not going to have impact no matter how amazing it is,” according to the report.

The study was written by Cooney Center Senior Industry Analyst Carly Shuler and is a publication of the Games and Learning Publishing Council, which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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Laura Ascione

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