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HomeLearning DifficultiesAssistive Technology

Evaluating educational software for children with LD: What parents need to know

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By Kyle Higgins, Ph.D. , Randall Boone, Ph.D.

Factors to Consider in Evaluating Educational Software

Just because a piece of software is reliable and easy to use does not necessarily indicate that it is of high educational value or that it meets the learning needs of a child with a learning disability. Many educators agree that while software has become more technically mature and active, it is seriously lacking in educational relevance.4

There are more tens of thousands of educational titles available, with hundreds being added yearly. With more than a thousand programs available for a single subject area, it is nearly impossible for parents to sort through to see if a particular piece of software has been evaluated.

Software reviews and software evaluations have been around since computers were first introduced into schools. While many journals or education-oriented magazines publish software reviews, there can be problems with the rigor and consistency of the content. Commercial magazines are supported by advertising from the very companies that publish the software under review. This may produce a conflict of interest that creates a hesitancy to view the products under review with a critical eye.

Often a software review is an opinion article - it is one person's view of the software. Typically a reviewer has never used the software with a targeted user group - for example, students with learning disabilities - nor is the reviewer even familiar with the learning characteristics of the targeted group.

Things to Consider When You Purchase Educational Software

So how do parents cope with the need to integrate computer-based learning materials into their child's learning tasks at home, while also recognizing the limitations of current software? You will want to consider the following important features when assessing a piece of educational software:

  • The software should consider the characteristics of a child's learning disability. For example, it should communicate relevant features of the task to be completed.
  • The software should provide options for the parent to select according to the type of learning disability of the child. For example, the reading level of the software should be adjustable.
  • The software should provide instructional options that can be tailored to a child's learning disability. For example, the software should provide adequate prompts for learning and responding.
  • The screen design of the software should take into consideration the learning characteristics of students with learning disabilities. For example, all text on the screen should be double-spaced and include color-cueing.
  • The instructional options built into the software should take into consideration the learning characteristics of students with learning disabilities. For example, the software should have built-in learning guidance for errorless learning and provide for "over learning."
  • The sound included in the software should be relevant and not interfere with learning. The software should include an option to turn off the sound.
  • All feedback included in the software should be consistent, obvious, and overt. A child should not be left wondering if he responded correctly.
  • The software should provide the ability to support assistive devices, such as text-to-speech technology.

Only your efforts as evaluators, as well as consumers, can help you avoid purchasing or using-software that is either ineffective with your child, does not teach what it says it teaches, or does not support what is occurring in your child's classroom. Through your evaluation efforts, you may also become a more determined advocate for high-quality software for students with learning disabilities.

References

  1. P. G. Geisert & M. K. Futrell, 1995
  2. D. Williams, R. Boone & K. Kinglsey, in press
  3. R. Forcier, 1999
  4. J. L. Flake, E. McClintock & S. Turner, 1990

Reviewed February 2010

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