By Kyle Higgins, Ph.D. , Randall Boone, Ph.D.
Although many software developers know it is important to consult with educational experts, much software still is developed without consideration of key educational factors that may have an impact on learning1. Here are some examples of what researchers have discovered on the topic:
Because of the lack of information from education software publishers about how their software is produced, parents are basically on their own when selecting commercial educational software for children with learning disabilities. Often parents find that software they have purchased is not adaptable, does not teach what it says it teaches, or does not support learning that is occurring in the classroom.2 As a result of these many concerns and issues, it is unclear to what extent educational software is meeting the needs of parents, teachers, and students today.3
When you evaluate educational software for your child with LD, several components must be taken into consideration:
This is not an easy task for parents, who continually are faced with less and less time in which to do more and more.
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.
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:
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.
Reviewed February 2010
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