How to Find the Best Digital Learning Products

May 15, 2012
Kelsey Herron
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, CA
CATEGORIES Common Sense News, Common Sense Resources, Out-of-School Learning, Parents and Families

How much are kids really learning from the apps, games, and websites they use at home or at school? Can a parent or teacher trust that a product claiming to have “educational value” really does? And as educators how do you know which ones make sense to use in your classroom? Our new Learning Ratings can help.

Our 2011 poll indicates that an overwhelming majority of parents and teachers believe that digital media has the potential to rapidly change the way children learn, but they are skeptical of the claims made by media producers. To help you slice through the confusion, Common Sense has just launched Learning Ratings—a reliable resource that rates the educational value of new technologies. A highly trained team rates and reviews the latest apps, games, and websites with the goal of helping teachers and parents choose the products that provide the greatest learning potential for kids and teens.

"For nearly a decade, Common Sense Media has been providing parents and educators with the information they need to choose high-quality media for their kids," said James P. Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media. "As the digital world explodes, parents need help sorting the truly educational content from the content that's slapped with an 'educational' label by marketers. As the nation's leading nonpartisan authority on kids and media, Common Sense Media is uniquely positioned to provide this new level of guidance and expertise for parents, educators, and young people across the country."

Visitors to and users of the Common Sense Media app will now see a new rating for learning at the top of each mobile app, video game, and website review. These icons appear in addition to Common Sense's standard rating for age appropriateness and quality. Under the tab "Learning Potential," users see summary reviews of what kids can learn, what the product is about, how kids can learn, and how parents can help. Along with the summaries, a section called "Subjects and Skills" lays out both the core subjects and the 21st-century skills that the product addresses. The entire review culminates in an overall learning rating, ranging from "Not Meant for Learning" to "Best for Learning." Our experts are rating products that are designed for educational use as well as media intended for entertainment (since let’s face it, with many games these lines between educational and fun are blurring).

There are already Learning Ratings included in our reviews of more than 200 mobile apps, games, and websites -- and we’ve just gotten started. We will have nearly 1,000 reviews with Learning Ratings by the end of 2012. New digital media products will be reviewed as they land on the shelves, and previously-reviewed products will be updated on an ongoing basis.

Common Sense Media’s editors will also be compiling special recommendation lists based on age, skill, and subject to help parents pick the products that best suit their children’s needs. Check back often and be sure to keep an eye on our weekly review newsletter for the latest Learning Rating reviews.

The ratings are based on comprehensive research and rigorous evaluation, developed on the data collected from interviews with academic experts and national samples of parents and teachers.

We were lucky enough to receive generous support for this initiative from the Susan Crown Exchange (SCE) a new effort led by Crown, an executive and philanthropist from Chicago.  

“We believe this initiative will begin setting a new standard for digital media products,” Crown and SCE Executive Director Ryan Blitstein said in a recent email, adding that they hope Learning Ratings will “promote a fresh vision of learning; help equip parents to make choices; and, hopefully, elevate the quality of technologies that will be available to millions of children.”

Researcher and author on child development and technology Daniel Donahoo blogged about the new release for the Huffington Post, noting that, “Common Sense Media provides a tool for parents and educators -- not just to find games that support learning, but to explore and understand what learning looks like in digital environments.” 

Donahoo also noted that the site gives parents and educators a language to better discuss the ways media can facilitate learning. “There will never be a definitive answer to what digital tools are best for children, but these new learning ratings from Common Sense Media provide a good basis for conversation and improved understanding,” he wrote.

“They give parents guidance and also validate that when the time comes, their children will be learning when they are engaging with mobile apps or computer games. It also helps parents begin to see the differences and identify that not all games are equal when it comes to learning.”