Emerging evidence suggests interactive apps benefit early academic skills in children

1. A systematic review of 35 controlled studies examining the impact of interactive applications (apps) on early academic skills in young children found multiple studies showing benefit for early mathematics learning.

2. None of the studies examining apps targeting social communication skills in children with autism spectrum disorder showed learning benefits.

Evidence Rating Level: 2 (Good)

Study Rundown: Use of touchscreen mobile devices and interactive apps has become common among young children and there is evidence that overusing devices may carry health risks. However, there is limited evidence regarding the potential benefit from interactive apps for early learning. In this systematic review, researchers examined 35 randomized controlled and quasi-experimental trials studying the impact of interactive apps on a variety of academic skills in children less than 6 years of age. Multiple studies showed benefits for early academic learning–a majority of the studies found early mathematics learning benefits from interactive apps when compared to controls. The same was true for studies examining language arts learning outcomes. None of the studies examining social communication skills in children with autism spectrum disorder showed benefit in the app intervention group. The majority of the studies examined were at risk of bias in at least 1 domain.

These findings are limited by the heterogeneity of the design, outcomes, and comparison groups of included studies, which prevented meta-analysis of study data. Nonetheless, the study is strengthened by its thorough examination of the current body of literature on emerging technology and examination of bias among the included studies. For physicians, these findings highlight the potential of learning benefits from educational touchscreen apps, and the importance of further research into app-based interventions.

Click to read the study, published today in Pediatrics

Relevant reading: Media and Young Minds

In-Depth [systematic review]: Researchers used publication databases to identify 35 studies examining the impact of interactive game apps on academic achievement, executive functioning skills, socio-emotional skills, and task-specific learning in children 5 years of age and under. Studies were included if they had randomized controlled or quasi-experimental designs. A narrative synthesis of the included studies was presented. Heterogeneity of the studies in terms of design, outcomes, and comparison groups used prevented researchers from conducting a meta-analysis. Studies were analyzed for risk of bias using Cochrane’s risk of bias tool for randomized trials.

A total of 4639 children were participants across the studies. Of the 15 studies examining early mathematics learning benefits from interactive apps, 10 showed better outcomes in the math app intervention group compared with the control group. Of the 11 studies examining language arts outcomes, 6 showed better outcomes in the app intervention group. The use of interactive apps to improve social communication skills in children with autism spectrum disorder was examined in 3 randomized controlled trials, and none of the studies showed significant improvement in primary outcome measures in groups using the app compared with control groups. Overall, 19 of the 35 studies were at high risk of bias in at least 1 domain, including nonrandom assignment to groups, substantial missing data, and lack of blinding.

Image: PD

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