7 things to look for when choosing a mobile app for education

Charlie Davis and I were having a chat in the office the other day about what you should look for when choosing an educational mobile app. Here are some of our thoughts, but feel free to add more via the comments on the blog.

App Store Cost: Free is brilliant but if this is not available a free version which you can try out is also important. It provides you with an opportunity to ‘try before you buy’ working out if you feel it provides educational value and that the students can engage with it. Watch out for those services which require you to upgrade after a specific time period or usage level. Freemium software can be very annoying, particularly if you build up content over a period of time and then discover that suddenly you will have to pay for it!

Cloud Based: Lots of people are talking about cloud computing, what this provides is a way for whatever you are creating on the app to sync with other devices (tablets, phones, static PCs etc) but preserve local access as well. This means that you do not need to worry about having the correct cables to transfer files manually to another machine. The Dropbox app is a good example of this as it lets you share files across devices.

Design: Is the app intuitive to use? Is it clear where you need to tab/click in order to complete an action? Will you have to talk students through using the app or will they be able to work it out themselves? Apps that are well designed will not need you to provide much support for their use this means you will have more time to explain to the educational value of them to your students providing them with a reason to use them.

Device Support: You should take into account the variety of devices students will use to access the app. Make sure that it supports a variety of phones, tablets and Operating Systems (e.g. Windows or Mac) and consider whether some students will be disadvantaged because they do not have access to the only device it works on.

Stability: The app has to be stable, which means updates are pushed out regularly. Apps can be buggy and it’s important that they don’t crash, fail to work or stop. Students will quickly stop using them if this happens.

Specific Purpose: The best apps have a specific purpose they do not try to do too many things. Those that do often find that by trying to provide as many functions as possible means they do not do any of them well. That isn’t to say that they can’t be used in a variety of contexts but rather their purpose and function is clear. Evernote is a good example of this as its purpose for collecting, organising and sharing notes is specific but could be used to support note taking in lectures, group collaboration, pre-session activities and many more.

Reviews: Reviews left by other people can tell you a lot about a product this is the same with a mobile app. Take a look at the review sections in an app stores or online this should give you a good indication of whether there are major problems with an app and also how usable others have found it.

Is there anything that you specifically look for in an educational mobile app?

3 thoughts on “7 things to look for when choosing a mobile app for education

  1. I think an important point is what you briefly mentioned in the cloud section: “preserve local access as well”. Many apps require an active data connection to run – particularly if they are ad supported. I had a recipe app that wouldn’t even open without an Internet connection. Try turning off wifi/data, and see if it still works.

    If it’s only to be used at home/University then it’s probably not an issue; but you’ll want to know either way.

  2. Finally, don’t forget the best free “app” on your mobile: the web browser!

    Note: Modern Web sites can be designed to look like mobile phone apps. We can, and one day probably should, address this for our e-learning content.

    I’ve done a lot of research in this area already…

    Here’s a modern infrastructure for e-learning that also supports mobile devices:
    https://sites.google.com/site/electronicacademic/Home/Projects/DPR-Development-Related-Ideas/e-learning-drive

    … and some recommendations about mobile e-learning:
    https://sites.google.com/site/electronicacademic/Home/hardware/mobile-devices

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