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10 Top Learning Apps

This blog first appeared on the LINE website on May 20th 2010

Ed Lines assesses the potential for learning with Apps on mobile devices and gives 10 examples that are changing the way we learn.

The App Factor

“There’s an App for that” is such a loathsomely catchy slogan from Apple, and it is quickly becoming an everyday quip for people in response to a friend’s wish for something that might help them perform a menial household task – as I discovered recently, during a slothful moment:

Me: I wish there was something that could iron my shirt for me.
Flatmate: There’s an App for that!

As annoying as this was, it made me realise is how prevalent the App factor has become. I read recently that the iPhone App Store will soon hold more items than an individual store at world’s largest retailer, Wal-mart, which carries approximately 100,000 items [Flurry]. In fact, the App ‘industry’ is expected to generate £3.8bn from downloads in 2010 [Gartner].

What exactly is an App?

Put simply, an App is an application program on a computer. We have used Apps every day for years. Microsoft Word, Outlook, Paint and AppleWorks are all examples, but the great difference is that because your internet-ready smartphone now carries as much processing power as a desktop PC did only a few years ago: Apps are no longer limited to the desktop. Apps are now increasingly free from devices: they no longer need to be built for specific platforms and they come in all shapes and sizes; from GPS systems to pocket dictionaries, from car racing games to a virtual pint of beer that drains away as you pretend to drink it (although, sadly, no App can iron your shirt yet, as far as I’m aware!). Such is their variation and popularity that Android and iPhone users spend, on average, 80 to 90 minutes a day using Apps [AdMob].

Apps and Learning

So, what is the significance for mobile Apps within the learning industry? A couple of months ago Piers Lea, LINE’s CEO, blogged that the long-prophesised birth of mobile learning (M-Learning) was finally here. When you see some of the latest stats, it is hard to disagree:

  • 3m active users in the eBooks category of iPhone Apps: 1% of the US population [Flurry]
  • Amazon sell six Kindle books for every 10 physical books, according to Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon [Yahoo Finance]
  • Learning and Education is the 4th most popular App category to download [148Apps.biz]

The thirst for information on-the-go is huge. Search engines continually make information faster and easier to find. For example, Google’s predictive search facility often suggests the question you wanted to ask before you’ve finished typing it. I went to a quiz night recently where participants were disqualified if they so much as took their phone out of their pocket. Wikipedia grows by 1,300 articles each day [Guardian Technology] and is currently the 7th most popular website in the world. When monitoring people’s social media behaviour, a blog report by Retrevo titled Is Social Media a New Addiction?, revealed that more than 1 in 6 people relied on sites like Twitter for their morning news.

Top Apps

With the high demand for information, the potential for on-the-go Apps to be learning-based is substantial. So, what is currently being supplied? In no particular order, here are 10 learning-based Apps that illustrate significant changes in the way we learn:

Jamie Oliver’s ‘20 minute meals’ for the iPhone. Much more than a cookbook, this App hand-holds you through the preparation of meals step-by-step with handy videos on particular processes, like how to sharpen knives or how to chop garlic. It even prepares shopping lists of ingredients which you can tick off as you toddle down the aisles at your local supermarket. This has really provided the template for the new generation of competing Apps on handheld devices.

2. Apps are transforming the medical world and there are a large range of health related Apps. Doctors are increasingly using iPhones in their medical assessments: An App by QxMD allows members of the medical community to assess risk, and attain rapid tuition in situations that require fast decisions about which they might be unsure.

3. There are plenty of easy-to-use diagnostic Apps too: WebMD Mobile for the iPhone provides medically reviewed information, allowing users to check symptoms, access treatment information and view First Aid essentials.

4. Also in the health category, for those travelling abroad Universal Doctor Speaker for iPad is an application that translates your medical problems into different languages in an easy-to-read form that can be shown to a foreign doctor.

5. Wikiamo for iPhone. An App which links to Wikipedia online in one-touch. Of all the Wikipedia-style Apps, Wikiamo is the most versatile, allowing for bookmarks, quick navigation of Wikipedia pages, and search.

This famous and venerable resource has been online for years but now it is now available in App form.

7. Google Goggles for Android. You can be in an art gallery, take a photo of a painting, Google recognises it and will give you a wealth of information on the work and the artist. You can be looking at the front cover of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and by taking a photo of it Google can automatically provide a synopsis and great quotations. Although this App is still in its infancy, it could change the way we view everything and will make learning increasingly ‘just-in-time’.

8. GCSE revision Apps for iPhone. A revolution in revision – these science Apps cover the key GCSE examination areas. You receive a score based on your performance and then discover the areas you should spend more time on.

9. iWriteWords for iPhone: An award winning App for pre-schoolers which allows them to use the touch-screen to trace letters and form words.

10. UK Driving Theory Test App contains the DSA theory test question a bank with over 960 questions and Hazard Awareness. Available on both Android and iPhone, it lets you play a quiz game to prepare you for your driving licence theory test.

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