We live in a new era of widespread distance and online learning.
Even before COVID-19 forced the closure of schools around the world, investments in EDtech (educational technology) had reached $18.66 billion in 2019 and the online education market should be $350 billion by 2025.
Today, the Internet is becoming a virtual classroom for an increasing number of children, as parents turn to online resources to plan lessons and research activities for their homebound children. Even high school students are also looking for extra test prep help from home. But here’s the good news: the quality of online learning platforms has only grown to meet this demand.
Some offer games that teach young children in fun and engaging ways that barely feel like school, while others offer in-depth foreign language programs for students whose parents only speak one language.
That said, when looking for an online learning platform for your children, especially small children, there is a lot factors to consider to make sure your child actually learns something. You want them to be engaged with the material and not fight you every time they have to connect. You also don’t want to waste your money on anything clumsy or dangerous.
What should you look for when choosing a good e-learning platform?
The answer, of course, depends a bit on the student you are looking for, but in general, all good online learning platforms should meet the following criteria:
They should not be weighed down with advertisements.
Free educational apps may look good, but keep in mind that free platforms often require advertising to keep the app working – and some of these ads may not be suitable for children.
It is especially important to avoid ads if you are looking for a learning platform for young children, because studies of children under the age of four or five have shown that this age group does not systematically distinguish what an advertisement is. This greatly diminishes the educational value of the platform.
Ads can also just be bulky, clutter the screen, or slow down the loading speed of the learning platform, making the user experience clunky.
They must be educational.
It may seem obvious, but just because something is labeled as educational doesn’t mean it actually provides the best educational experience. Games should be primarily – if not entirely – focused on teaching.
They should also involve children so that they learn actively. If the platform allows the child to walk away and just “watch”, chances are they won’t remember as much. But if the platform asks them questions, asks them to create something, or invites them to actively use their new knowledge – much like a teacher in a classroom – chances are the child will give more attention and remember more information.
They offer something an off-screen experience can’t.
With the rise of distance learning, functionality is often overlooked, especially with early learning apps that allow children to put together puzzles or trace letters on the screen. – two activities they can also do in real life instead of on screen.
The best learning platforms are aware of the dramatic increase in children’s screen time and try to offer something that pen and paper or physical games cannot. Some teach kids how to code, others give them access to experts in a foreign language that simply wouldn’t be available closer to home. And others still rival non-educational games by making learning fun.
Some of the best also spark interest in off-screen activities. Many of the best will offer ideas for kids to continue learning offline by grabbing a pen and paper to draw, work out a math equation, foster a love of reading books IRL, or experiment with hands-on art projects.
They should be safe.
This means that they should not expose children to strangers who might harm them.
Avoid learning platforms that offer online chat rooms that a stranger could join and use to talk to your child. For young children, you’ll also want to avoid platforms that log in outside of the app, as this may lead them to browse unsafe or unverified sites.
It’s against the law, thanks to the Children’s Online Privacy Shield Rule (COPPA), for websites to collect personal information from children under the age of thirteen without parental consent. That said, make sure you choose an online platform or tool that respects the law and has the necessary privacy settings.
If you are unsure whether a program is safe to use, you can always check with the Common Sense Media Privacy Program.
Even for older children, learning platforms that allow you to create a username – instead of their full name – can be a good choice, especially if the platform has a public aspect (i.e. say a classification by score).
They should allow you or the child to monitor their progress.
Some will do it with a parental tracker. Others will offer notes. But tracking progress is essential so kids can see how they’re improving and know where they need to improve. It can also build their confidence and commitment.
For younger children in particular, you may feel more comfortable with an app that also alerts you to their progress and quickly notifies you of a problem or concern. It can help you know what you need to work with them offline and one-on-one. For example, if you know your child is falling behind in reading comprehension, you’ll know you should spend more time working with them offline and finding fun ways to read in the evenings or on weekends.
Beware of educational platforms that emphasize rewards rather than actual learning. You want them to be motivated to learn the actual concept being taught, not just to get to the next level.
A clear sign of gamified platforms is that they rely on in-app purchases. These platforms are geared more towards leveling up and earning money than teaching your kids. (Plus, platforms with in-app purchases can get very expensive quickly — another reason to avoid them.)
They must be clear about the age they are intended for.
Nothing can damage a child’s self-esteem or confidence faster than material that is way too hard. Similarly, material that is too easy can bore children. To make sure neither of these scenarios happen, parents need to know what age the content is intended for so they can help choose an age-appropriate platform.
For younger children, you’ll also want to prioritize platforms that make learning fun or offer rewards or achievements for each lesson they complete. This way they will feel encouraged and engaged.
Do you really need it?
There’s no need to increase your child’s screen time just because. There are plenty of offline activities (think: crafts, books, sports, etc.) to keep a child entertained. So there’s no need to just put your child in front of a screen if the platform is teaching them something they can already get elsewhere.
That’s why, when choosing a platform, consider its true purpose and what it actually offers your child. Does it teach them something new or just keep them from getting bored?
Here are some of our favorite online learning platforms for kids in 2022 that meet these criteria – but keep reading for the full list below.
Best overall for early learning
ABC Mouse(opens in a new tab)
With over 950 math, reading, science, social studies, and art lessons, ABC Mouse is a great all-around learning platform for kids ages two to eight.
Ideal for perfecting reading skills
Reading eggs(opens in a new tab)
Reading Eggs is a great platform that will not only teach kids to read but also hone their comprehension skills.
Great for learning to code
CodaKid(opens in a new tab)
CodaKid makes coding fun and teaches kids a range of different coding languages, not just the popular ones.