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Getting an Education: How to Build Educational Apps

By John Moore for Digital Innovation Gazette

Educational games face a couple of pressing challenges. One is competition -- hundreds of titles exist across the various app stores. The other is the audience. Tech-savvy kids are quite demanding, after all.

Learning Gems, a Portage, Mich. company, is having a go in the educational apps market, fielding a team of teachers, coders and copywriters. The company is an offshoot of Blue Fire Media, which focuses on web design and marketing. Jeff Wendland, copywriter and social media manager at Learning Gems, recently discussed one of the company’s newest launches, Spelling Space - 1st Grade.

Kids are a pretty tough crowd -- particularly when it comes to educational games. What are the key design challenges you encounter when developing apps for children?

Jeff Wendland: We try to make our games as attractive as possible for kids by creating vibrant and high-quality graphics to help keep them engaged. In our Spelling Space game, we also included a little game within the game where they can shoot meteors at space ships as a way to mix a little bit of fun as positive reinforcement. The better the child does taking the quiz, the more meteors they will have to shoot.


Did you do formal usability testing with Spelling Space - 1st Grade or was it an informal process?

J.W.: Our usability testing was fairly informal. Many of us have young children. While testing, we gave the kids the game to play and watched them to see where they had difficulties. Some of our wives are teachers too, so we were able to have multiple teachers bring the games into school for feedback from their peers and students.

Did you use any particular development platform to create the game?

J.W.: We use Corona for developing our apps.

The education app market is pretty crowded -- well over 1,000 apps in the AppStore alone. How do you approach differentiation?

J.W.: We do our best to focus on core curriculum. We want our educational apps to help kids learn and do better in school. We also strive to make our apps very graphically appealing. You have to find the right balance between the app’s ultimate goal of helping kids learn and still be a fun game that they want to play.

Spelling Space - 1st Grade is available via app stores including Apple, Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble, Samsung and Google Play. Do you have a marketing approach tailored to each retail outlet, or do you have a unified marketing program?

J.W.: Spelling Space - 1st Grade was actually made so that we could get the game into the Kindle and Nook markets. Our original game is Spelling Space - Ultimate. In the Ultimate version, a parent can type in their children’s spelling list and also record the words so that they can study their spelling list in a fun way. We found that our kids did great on their quizzes after playing the game. The Kindle Fire and Nook do not have microphones, so we had to change the game around by adding and recording the spelling lists ourselves. We compiled our lists from several sources that adhere to Common Core Standards.


Photo: @iStockphoto.com/mbortolino

Copyright (c) 2012 Studio One Networks. All rights reserved.

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