Making Effective Apps: Factors to Consider
May 13, 2012
Teaching and learning using mobile devices is fundamentally changing classrooms everywhere. These devices are shifting how students read, communicate and think (and have been for a while now). The potential for using these devices for learning really caught on when the iPad was introduced in April 2010.
While there’s significant effort to bring the textbook to the mobile learning medium with immersive, multimedia experiences, there’s not much yet available for other instructional purposes. A wide range of factors may account for this education “app gap”, and I wanted to call attention to a few in this post.
Research and our work with clients suggests there are seven issues to address:
Apps serve a single purpose for a single audience: making an app deceptively simple is significantly more difficult than one imagines. It takes several iterations of concepts, app flow, wireframe design and user testing to achieve a quality product.
Education apps generally fall into two categories: Structured Learning Experiences or Open-Ended Instructional Tools.
Structured Learning Experiences
Open-ended Instructional Tools
Lower planning effort
Higher planning effort
Difficult to incorporate
Easy to incorporate
Lower teacher involvement
Higher teacher involvement
Each type of app has its advantages and disadvantages as this table illustrates. The iterative app design process works through several of these to determine which approach is best for its circumstances.
Many apps fail to gain adoption because they have no easy way for students to share their work with their teacher. More successful apps offer at least two means of sharing, distributing, and collecting user-generated content: Email, Google Docs/Drive, Dropbox, Evernote are the most frequently used methods. (I suspect third-party education solutions will make this easier in the next 18 months.)