I read a piece on FastCoLabs on research conducted by Susan B. Neuman on the effect of children working with the Learn With Homer-app. The controle group worked with another app that was on music and math. As the article describes:
“The randomized, six-week study took a sample of 95 disadvantaged students across seven different Head Start classrooms in Brooklyn and divided the children into small groups. Each of the 4- and 5-year-old students was given an iPad running either Learn With Homer or another unnamed math and music-oriented learning app. In 12-15 minute intervals, students were fully immersed, headphones and all, in these iPad-based learning environments. Adults only stepped in as needed to ensure the kids were staying on track, but did not aid directly in the learning process so as not to taint the results of the trial.”
And big news: the group who worked with the Learn With Homer-App did better on six of the seven phonological skills being measured. They were especially better in three key areas: print knowledge, phonological awareness, and letter sounds.
Well, surprise. So, kids who were trained by an app with an adult present who kept them focused on the app did better than other kids who weren’t trained. If there wouldn’t have been any difference, this would be terrible news. But wait, if you check the article, or rather the working paper without any references, because I couldn’t find any peer reviewed results yet, you can notice that although the differences were significant, the effect size was actually modest.
But was this experiment asking the right question? If people practice something I sure hope they will get better at it. But was using the app the best option? Or should the control group rather than playing another kind of app on another topic, better had received similar training on paper, or on DVD, or whatever?
So, although the title of the original article I started with is not wrong as such, it doesn’t tell us much about the question if using an app for learning instead of something else is a good idea.
Disclaimer: I didn’t say it’s by definition a bad idea, I just say we don’t know.