An “app” is defined as a self-contained program or piece of software designed to fulfill a particular purpose; it can run on the Internet, a computer, a phone, or any other electronic device. The word “app” is particularly applied to applications downloaded to a mobile device; many can be accessed across multiple platforms and devices. Some are specific to Apple or Android or other product types. The expanding popularity of apps is strongly connected to the ubiquitous access people have to mobile devices.
Most important for higher education is the reality that with a learning app, a student can learn anywhere and anytime, often even without Internet connections.
A 2015 report from McGraw-Hill Education, The Impact of Technology on College Student Study Habits, found that 81% of US college students use mobile devices to study. Three-quarters of students report that adaptive technology, which responds to their input and results, has helped them to improve their grades. Feedback from students and instructors indicates students today are more likely to study in shorter, more concentrated bursts, rather than spend hours in the library. This shift in behaviour underlines the importance of apps for supporting and extending this learning.
Some Examples of Learning Apps for Use in Higher Education
While sources such as the Khan Academy, TED, and iTunesUniversity are always among the top recommendations for apps focused on content in a multitude of topics, several apps are designed to support teaching and learning processes for faculty and students alike.
Features: Keeps track of class times, assignments, tests, and projects, offering reminders on due dates. Upcoming assignments are marked in blue, those with approaching due dates are in orange, and those past due appear in red. Can be used offline and then syncs across devices when back online.
Availability: Apple, Android, Windows, Kindle, and Chrome
Cost: Free or $4.99 a year for premium, ad-free version (All prices are in US dollars and may vary in Canada)
Features: Enables the creation of to-do lists by category with built-in reminders. Projects can be shared and discussed online. Categories are created (e.g. for each course or projects within a course) and to dos recorded with dates, reminder windows and links. Students can create task notes and attach PDFs, spreadsheets, and photos. Works on any device and automatically syncs between them.
Availability: Apps and extensions for 15 platforms
Cost: Basic version free, small cost ($29 annually) for extended use
Name: My Study Life
Features: Designed to help with scheduling and organizing, My Study Life supports rotating, as well as regular weekly schedules, keeps track of assignments, classes, projects, exams, with reminders of deadlines. Syncs across devices.
Availability: Apple, Android, Windows and the web
Cost: Free for students, with no ads
Name: JotNot Scanner Pro
Features: JotNot acts as a portable scanner for documents, faxes, handwritten notes, whiteboards, receipts, etc. Take pictures of documents and select the area to save. JotNot enhances the image and saves it, helping to darken faint text or fix contrast. An additional app acts as a portable, outbound fax machine for sending PDFs as faxes at additional costs.
Name: Fast Scanner
Features: Multiple page scanner for documents, notes, whiteboards, and other paper text for printing, e-mailing or saving, with automatic page edge detection and black and white, gray scale, and colour scan modes.
Availability: Apple and Android
Cost: Free or $3.83 with no ads
Features: A reader that can handle huge PDF, TXT, and other files, as well as audio and video. Allows the addition of text boxes, sticky notes, highlights, freehand drawings, underlining, and text insertion marks. Files can be organized and e-mailed; features zoom, text search, and other capacities.
Features: Clean, uncomplicated interface allows note taking, lengthy text writing, to-do lists, reminders, attachment of all types of files, photos, documents, communication and collaboration, and creation of presentation layout.
Availability: Apple, Android and full range of devices
Cost: free version, as well as plus ($28.99 annually) and premium ($57.99 annually)
Name: Otter a.i.
Features: Live transcription note-taking—designed for universities and other higher level education institutions.
Cost: 600 minutes of transcription free per month
Assignment and Project Planning and Management
Features: MindJet helps create mind maps which can be used for note taking, brainstorming and creation of charts, graphs and other visuals to present ideas, outlines for papers and projects, task assignments, etc. Can create outlines with different topic shapes or colors, attach notes to topics, or arrange topics based on common themes before sharing them with others.
Availability: Apple, Android
Cost: Free downloads on Google Play and iTunes sites.
Name: Dragon Dictation
Features: The app recognizes speech and converts the speech to text in real time. Free version limits the amount of speech to 30 seconds. The text can be exported and saved.
Availability: The free Dragon Dictation is available for Apple products only. The more sophisticated versions are available for Apple and Android devices.
Cost: Dragon Dictation is free. Dragon NaturallySpeaking has various costs and extended capacities.
Bibliographies and References
Features: Citationsy is a new clean tool for creating citations, reference lists, and bibliographies. Paste a link and Citationsy will find all the information needed to cite it.
Availability: Web, Chrome, Mac
Name: Easy Bib
Features: Formats information from 59 different sources, including statutes, music, film, and conference proceedings in APA, MLA, Chicago and many other styles. Type in book name or take a photo of the barcode to generate a choice of citation styles.
Availability: Apple and Android
Cost: $4.99 monthly, $19.99 annually, and $29.99 lifetime
These apps are all focused on the process of learning. They are each very successful, making learning a little more organized and/or successful.
Where Learning Apps are Going – What’s Next?
Apps are being developed by all sorts of organizations, institutions and, what a surprise, students themselves. What can we expect in the next year or so?
There are a variety of directions in which this work could go. Some institutions are developing their own suite of apps to support their own programs – Harvard is leading the way and many others are close behind. Others see apps focused on outcomes and competencies as the way in which this work is likely to go, led by leading publishers like Pearson and McGraw Hill.
Other developments include apps aimed at supporting the learning of native North American languages. A leading example of this is the work being done by Ogoki Learning Systems Inc. – covering a range of First Nation languages. Indeed, language learning is a strong focus for app development.
One of the drivers is cost. Quality apps cost money to develop, requiring significant investment in instructional design and evaluation before release. Another driver is varying definitions of quality – quality may be seen in terms of comprehensiveness, integrity and functionality by the designers, but the end user defines quality in terms of ease of use and value added in relation to cost.
At the time of writing there are (approximately) 1.5 millions apps in the Android store and 1.4 million in the Apple App Store. Around 11% of these are educational (mainly K-12). Most analysts expect both the total number of apps to grow at 15-20% per annum and the educational component to grow to 15%. That is a lot of apps. They are here to stay and will be a growing feature of the way in which students learn and faculty members teach.