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Entertainment, Educational, Edutainment

The educational value of a digital product is not just black or white, there's a whole grey area to explore.

Apps can fall into many categories. It just takes a quick glance at the App Store or Google Play Store to find apps for productivity, social networking, streaming music and videos, messaging, fitness, gaming, news, travel, cooking, and many others. These apps are for grown-ups and categorizing them is an efficient way to make sense of the incredible amount of products out there. Apps for kids are one of these categories, but they often blend in between gaming and education.

Many games, when they respect a series of rules and limitations (we’ll discover which ones in a later chapter), can be categorized as kids’ products, even though they were created with adults in mind.

One of the biggest issues we still face today, with the App Store or Google Play Store, is that apps for children are all under the same umbrella. Sometimes there are collections like “ideal for preschoolers” or “apps for kids 3 to 5” and so on, but by looking inside you can see the situation is absolutely chaotic. Apps to teach spelling are together with video apps and games and who knows what else. Sure, these are all products for kids, but they are all different in purpose!

Can you imagine looking for a weather app and then going on the App Store of your choice to just find a giant “apps for adults” category, and everything is inside that, Spotify, Airbnb, Netflix, Microsoft Excel, Google Maps… How crazy would that be? Yes, the number of apps for children is way smaller than the amount of apps for adults, but it’s still a pretty big number.

Even though apps for children are a category (or sometimes more of a tag) by itself, we can identify subcategories that the stores seem to ignore. There’s a fragmentation pertaining to the age group, and then we can define another fragmentation about the purpose of the app. We’ll talk about age groups later, while in this section we’ll have a look at the purpose a kids’ app can have.

There are two major groups your app could fall into—entertainment and educational—and a third one which is a combination of the two, called edutainment (a portmanteau of educational and entertainment).

Gaming, music, videos, dancing, karaoke, and all this kind of things have, as their prime purpose, to entertain the user. Counting, spelling, reading, coding (yes, coding), and so on are educational.

The topic of quality in educational apps (that we briefly touched upon in Chapter 1) is very important, because there are consequences to false claims and deregulation—the main two being

  • Not providing a good experience, or even a detrimental one to children, in a worst-case scenario.
  • It can harm the confidence of parents in buying these products. If they have no tools to understand which app is really educational, which app was really meant to help their child’s development, they’ll eventually end up downloading something that doesn’t keep up to what it promises; this can cast a bad light over the entire market of apps for children and parents will lose trust in it altogether.

The third group, edutainment, is the most sought-after solution for children’s products. It’s probably every educator’s (and parent’s) dream to teach to children by maintaining a high level of interest without lapsing into boredom. Trying to add gaming and fun elements is not a new strategy, it’s been done for years, in schools and in products for children before the digital age, for example, in board games. You don’t need to be a parent or a caregiver to understand a preschooler might not find counting very exciting without adding some fun to it.

In fact, gamification for the purpose of learning is very common even in apps aimed to adults. Look at Duolingo, for example, features like badges and achievements are there to add a sense of challenge and reward when completing a series of activities. We actually use this technique in apps unrelated to education, think, for example, at the health app on the Apple Watch. Every day you have to close three rings, and that alone, the progression of the rings completing the circle is a powerful incentive, and when you do for several days in a row, you get a special badge as a reward. We will focus more on gamification in Chapter 5.

Even apps that are leaning on the entertainment side of the scale, for example, YouTube Kids, push educational content at the forefront. Why? Because, as I mentioned in Chapter 1, education sells and helps to deal with screen time concerns.

entertainment education edutainment

Edutainment is not necessarily a perfect formula of 50% educational value and 50% entertainment. The mixture can vary from product to product in different proportions.

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