Today’s grade school students are more tech-savvy than any generation before them.
From the time they’re old enough to get on a school bus, many schoolchildren are exposed to smart devices and have access to the internet.
When before they used textbooks, now they use tablets. When before they used encyclopedias, now they search on Google. They learn more, they see more, and they pick up things faster.
Traditional classroom models, which haven’t changed much since the mid-20th century, need to adapt with them to meet this new set of needs and inspire them to learn.
Educational apps and virtual learning platforms have risen to meet this need for a more technologically-integrated classroom. They have grown into a global industry projected to reach $605 billion by 2027.
Developers and startup founders in the educational space have their work cut out for them. On top of being an effective tool for learning, edtech apps also have to appeal to a young audience and be simple enough that teachers and educators to use without needing strong technical skills.
Creating a good educational app means balancing all of those needs and priorities and executing them well. Developers and UX designers should tailor their strategies to meet them, with the experience of both students and educators in mind.
Let’s explore what makes a good educational app, and look at some examples and factors to consider when designing an e-learning platform.
What Makes a Good Educational App?
There are currently 520,000 educational apps in the mobile app marketplace.
The COVID pandemic and the shift to remote learning created a wave of demand for edtech apps. In Q1 2020, there were 470 million downloads of mobile education apps in the Apple App store and 466 million on Google Play, nearly twice what they were in 2017 (249 million and 273 million respectively.
That’s a lot of competition. For your educational app to stand out in a crowded market, it should build in a few core features and ideas.
Student and Teacher Profiles
Having a virtual avatar or profile will help students socialize and compete with each other. User profiles in edtech apps make the apps more familiar for Gen Z students who are used to interacting with each other on social media.
Custom profiles make the learning experience feel more personal and collaborative. Educators can use the profiles to group students together for pop quizzes without signaling any one student out.
Being a self-motivated learner is more important than rote memorization, and students are more likely to be self-motivated if they feel like they’re making progress and achieving something.
Progress indicators help students break down larger academic goals into smaller, bite-sized, achievable tasks. They encourage students when they excel and push them to do better, or help them find areas where they need more practice.
If they come with alerts and notifications, educators can use them to identify students that are lagging behind and in need of more support. Having a manageable goal to reach helps students learn at their own pace rather than having to conform to an arbitrary standard. That in turn can help them make better choose a major as college students, or a career later in life as adults.
The most important part of the educational app you and your team are building is arguably the content itself - the courses, lectures, and curriculum that are at the core of the app.
A 2022 study published in the British Journal of Educational Technology showed that parents are more interested in apps that meet their children’s educational needs and give tangible feedback rather than buzzwords that focus more on memorization and standardized testing than learning for its own sake.
A well-designed educational app can not only help a student learn course material, but expand their knowledge and offer other avenues for further study. This will help them meet their educational goals in the short term and make the best career choices for them in the long term.
Good content in a virtual learning app requires cutting out irrelevant, outdated, or redundant information and leaving space for content that’s useful, relevant to the subject being studied, and backed by research and science.
A personalized user experience isn't specific to educational apps but is rather a UX design best practice in general.
Personalization helps make the app more appealing to children and students.
In the context of UX design for educational apps, a personalized learning experience can enable educators to share resources with specific students or groups who express interest in a certain area or subject. For example, an English teacher could assign different books, chapters, or excerpts to different students, or a math teacher can tailor math problems to be about sports, gaming, or real-world problems that students are more likely to resonate with.
Examples of Educational App UX Done Right
The are many types of educational apps that range from skill-building resources like Udemy, and language learning tools like Duolingo, to bonafide educational apps intended for a classroom setting.
A lot of the best examples of educational apps manage to make learning fun and engaging for students while also being easy for teachers to implement in a classroom.
Parents, students, and teachers alike all sing Khan Academy’s praises, and it’s not hard to see why.
Khan Academy strikes a delicate balance between self-paced learning and content flexibility. Its skill-targeting features let teachers assign specific material and exercises to students.
There's some pretty smart decision-making behind the design of the app itself too. Khan Academy is good at logically dividing courses, using short videos that students can revisit periodically.
This e-learning platform is designed more for parents than teachers, but it’s still a good example of how to design an educational app. Kids Academy is simple, easy to use, and has engaging resources and pre-tests that build on a student’s foundational learning.
A great example of an app that makes education fun, Kahoot! makes it easy for teachers to create quizzes, or for students to review content. The design of the app is meant to grow healthy competition in a fun, supportive environment.
Challenges of Educational App UX Design - and Ways to Solve Them
Learning app design essentially means designing for three audience groups: students, educators, and parents.
Educators like teachers want the app to enable their students to learn in the most effective way for their learning style. Parents want to see their students making progress and engaging with the material. Students just want to have fun learning.
Solving the most common UX design challenges involve the pain points of students, parents, and educators to create an app that's useful for all of them.
Onboarding and Education
Educators and teachers are generally slow to adapt to new ways of doing things and are reluctant to use new technology in the classroom.
In the end, the teachers will be the ones administering the app and making the call on whether to use it with their students. That's why onboarding is so important for edtech apps.
If the app is too different from what teachers are used to or has too many UX/UI elements, it’ll be too complex or overwhelming for teachers to consider it worth adopting.
Your mobile app adoption should consider the user journey of students as well. Assuming your app is meant for a grade school audience ranging from kinder-gardeners to high-school seniors (K-12), it has to appeal to them both. If the app is too childish or kid-friendly, older students might lose interest or not find the app stimulating enough. If the app is too complicated, it’ll be too hard for younger students.
It’s a well-established fact that students (as well as people in general) learn better when they’re having fun. Gamification is how your app can make learning feel less like work and more like a game.
Gamifying an educational app could involve integrating elements of game design like:
- Difficulty level options
Duolingo is a great example of this. Their language learning app uses an internal currency, fictional characters, and a competitive leaderboard to make learning languages feel both challenging and rewarding at the same time.
Khan Academy uses a skill tree that unlocks modules when students complete prerequisite challenges.
Many of those same features (e.g. leaderboards, skill trees) are what you might find in a role-playing game like Witcher III: The Wild Hunt or Skyrim.
Translating game design elements into a learning app isn’t a 1-to-1 adaptation. Doing it right involves educators working together with the developers and creative team. This adds more time and resources at the development stage but comes with the benefit of having more frameworks for different scenarios, like an algebra game that can be adjusted for different grade levels.
Designing for Child Psychology
Children are smarter than adults give them credit for. They don’t have any preconceptions about how the world works so they absorb all the information around them like sponges, and they often have intuition and emotional intelligence that becomes lost as they grow into adulthood.
What’s more, children's brains develop quickly. Toddlers retain information at a different rate than pre-teens, who learn at a different speed than older teenagers, and so on.
Your educational app should align with the student segment of your audience to keep their attention and mitigate the stress and social anxiety that children often feel at that age.
Students aren’t a homogenous group, and your app shouldn’t treat them as such. An educational app should be accessible for students with learning disabilities or visual impairments, and your app UX should account for them from the initial planning stages.
Some accessibility elements you can build into your app include:
- Writing meta-data and text descriptions for visually impaired students who use screen readers
- Creating visual cues and indicators for deaf students
- Tailoring graphical elements for younger students to have UI for visually impaired students
Building an inclusive and accessible app also involves testing. Ideally, this testing should be manual rather than automated and should have a designated point person on the leadership team to oversee the app’s accessibility compliance.
Balancing Challenge and Accessibility
The traveling lens model introduced in 2004 introduces a framework for educational programming on TV that offers the right mix of challenge and appeal. Your app should follow a similar design philosophy.
Adjusting the challenge of your app isn’t always as linear as raising or lowering the difficulty. You can integrate other solutions within the app that flow within the user experience itself with elements that track user behavior, assign educational credit, or display a scoreboard.
Your three audience groups will want your educational app to do different things. Some teachers might want whiteboard access, parents might want two-way communication. The challenge here is to offer these different functionalities without adding so many excessive features that the app becomes unusable.
One possible solution to avoid feature creep is to have a custom interface that lets each student and teacher modify the app in a way that makes sense to them.
Offering Support Through In-App Chat
Even the best educational apps will inevitably have flaws in their design that need tweaking or bugs that need patching. There will be an adjustment period during your app’s adoption and onboarding process when the teachers and students using your app will need support.
For that, in-app chat solutions for e-learning platforms can help connect students and their teachers with live support if they don’t know how something in the app works, if it’s broken, or if they don’t know how to use a feature.
Smart Design is the Key to Your Educational App’s Success
Balancing accessibility with challenge. Making learning fun while also giving it structure. Designing a user experience based on child psychology while also being intuitive for adult teachers. Including students with disabilities and visual impairments in your app’s design. Creating a successful educational app juggles all of these.
It’s not easy, and even the best development teams will get things wrong at first. When that happens, you’ll need feedback from the teachers and students using your app to learn how to make it better, and for that, you need in-app chat solutions like CometChat.
Contact us today, and together we’ll make an edtech app that makes learning a fun, rewarding, and valuable experience for everyone in the classroom!