Longtime educational media developers TribalNova have launched iLearnWith, a suite of four iPad learning apps backed by a parental tool for monitoring childrens’ progress across educational areas. Aimed at learners aged 3-6, the initial iLearnWith offerings cover science, literacy, language and math skills by way of timed, game-like activities. The first app, Planet Boing!, is available for free via Apple’s App Store, and users will also have to create a free iLearnWith account to take full advantage of progress tracking and other tools.
TribalNova claims iLearnWith, “is the first of its kind: a cross curricular, game-based school readiness program developed with experts in early childhood development and designers to deliver to children 3 to 6 years old a fun and truly educational experience.” The company’s PR touts the apps’ ability to adapt difficulty levels to match a learner’s success rate while also offering individualized recommendations for additional content along with email alerts for parents. Given the team’s pedigree, which includes experience at PBS Kids, they seem to know what they’re talking about.
I tested Planet Boing! and Ice Land Adventures! just ahead of launch, and was impressed by the production values, responsiveness of the UI and game elements, and the relative thoroughness and simplicity of the Parents’ Center. I had some minor quibbles with design clutter on a few screens, but nothing that raised any red flags.
Having put in some years as a teacher myself, I wanted an expert opinion on the “learning value” of the apps. So I showed them to an early childhood educator I know. Said educator holds an MA in Early Childhood Education and spent about seven years as a classroom teacher before becoming Director of a preschool in San Francisco; so while everybody’s got an opinion on education, hers is informed by a decade’s worth of study and practice in the field.
After about a minute of guiding a penguin down icy slides by completing simple letter and sound matching tasks in Ice Land!, she nodded knowingly and summed her thoughts up: “It seems fine: There’s nothing really wrong with it, I guess. But I just wonder how kids playing apps like these will ever learn what to do when they get stuck. They get so much instant feedback on everything they do, how will they ever learn how to figure things out for themselves when there’s nobody – or no iPad – to tell them what to do next? That’s so important for preschoolers to learn. But maybe we’re headed for a world where iPads are always around to tell kids what to do, I don’t know.”
Whatever your thoughts on raising a generation of kids who turn to Google Apps and Siri for guidance on darn near everything (ahem, just like their paernts do?), it’s worth keeping an eye on iLearnWith as a forerunner of melding informal and formal education. The initial offering of iLearnWith apps combines the informality of bite-sized, gamified iPad experiences out of the classroom with more traditional features including cross-curricular progress tracking. If TribalNova can make good on delivering quality adaptive learning experiences for youngins and solid content recommendations for their parents, they could well be on to something here.