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Major types of educational software
Children's learning and home learning
An immense number of titles, probably running into the 1000's, were developed and released from the mid-1990’s onwards, aimed primarily at the home education of younger children. Later iterations of these titles often began to link educational content to school curricula (such as England’s National Curriculum). The design of educational software programmes for home use has been influenced strongly by computer gaming concepts – in other words, they are designed to be fun as well as educational. However as far as possible a distinction should be drawn between proper learning titles (such as these) and software where the gaming outweighs the educational value (described later). Parents need such a distinction in order to make informed purchasing choices.
The following are examples of children’s learning software which have a structured pedagogical approach, usually orientated towards literacy and numeracy skills.
- Knowledge Adventure’s Jumpstart and Math Blaster series
- The Learning Company’s Reader Rabbit and Zoombinis series
- Disney Interactive learning titles based on characters such as Winnie-the-Pooh, Aladdin, The Jungle Book and Mickey Mouse
Titles targeted at older children tend to focus more narrowly on reference (see below) or examination training.
A further category of educational software is software designed for use in school classrooms. Typically such software may be projected onto a large whiteboard at the front of the class and/or run simultaneously on a network of desktop computers in a classroom. While teachers often choose to use educational software from other categories in their IT suites (e.g. reference works, children’s software), a whole category of educational software has grown up specifically intended to assist classroom teaching. Branding has been less strong in this category than in those categories orientated towards home users. Software titles are often very specialised and produced by a wide variety of manufacturers, including many established educational book publishers.
- The schoolzone.co.uk Guide to Digital Resources, 5th ed. (2005) - An up-to-date full-colour guide with reviews of around 500 selected and recommended products, categorised by subject area, albeit specific to the UK school system.
In a broader sense, the term edutainment describes an intentional merger of computer games and educational software into a single product (and could therefore also comprise more serious titles described above under children’s learning software). In the narrower sense used here, the term describes educational software which is primarily about entertainment, but tends to educate as well and sells itself partly under the educational umbrella. Software of this kind is not structured towards school curricula, does not normally involve educational advisors, and does not focus on core skills such as literacy and numeracy.
- Microsoft’s Zoo Tycoon series, where children can learn about animals (and business skills) while simulating the management of a zoo.
- Economic simulations such as Capitalism and Industry Giant, intended for older learners.
Many dictionaries and encyclopedias rushed into CD-ROM editions soon after the widespread introduction of the CD-ROM to home computers. A second major development occurred as the internet also became widely available in homes, with reference works becoming available online as well. The conversion of previously print-only reference materials to electronic format marked a major change to the marketing and accessibility of such works. A striking case study is that of the venerable Encyclopædia Britannica, which was previously only available at prices of USD 1500 and higher, restricting it to the better libraries and the wealthy. Today the Encyclopædia Britannica retails in electronic format for around USD 50 with cheaper OEM versions sometimes bundled with new computers. Such dramatic changes brought conventionally restricted knowledge repositories to the fingertips of an almost universal audience in a period of less than 10 years. The opportunities brought by new media enticed new competitors into the reference software market. One of the earliest and most well-known was Microsoft Encarta, first introduced on CD-ROM and then also moving online along with other major reference works. In the dictionaries market, one of the more prolific brands was Merriam-Webster, who released CD-ROM and then online versions of English dictionaries, thesauri and foreign language dictionaries. A long list of online dictionaries is maintained under "dictionaries". Wikipedia and its offspins (such as Wiktionary) marked a new departure in educational reference software. Previous encyclopedias and dictionaries had compiled their contents on the basis of invited and closed teams of specialists. The Wiki concept allowed anyone and everyone to join in creating and editing an online set of reference works.
For more detailed information, see the articles on:
Educational software on custom platforms
Some manufacturers regarded normal desktop computers as an inappropriate platform for learning software for younger children and produced custom child-friendly pieces of hardware instead. The hardware and software would be combined into a single product, such as a child-sized laptop-lookalike. Theoretically, the educational software on these products could be converted or applied to a conventional desktop computer.
The most well-known example are Leapfrog products. These include hand-held consoles with a variety of pluggable educational game cartridges and book-like electronic devices into which a variety of electronic books can be loaded. An imaginative development policy has resulted in a wide range of electronic objects, mainly designed for carrying to school, sharing with friends or carrying around the house. Educationally, the products have concentrated on literacy and numeracy. The actual tasks are rather conventional, contrasting strongly with the progressive and imaginative plastic exteriors. The combination of traditional learning and portable, fashion-conscious casings has found an exceptionally popular following.
Computer games with incidental learning value
These are games which were originally developed for adults or older children and where the developers usually paid little or no consideration to potential learning implications. The absence of educational intent means that the term edutainment cannot be applied here. Such games were nevertheless enthusiastically received in some educational circles and even passed into academic literature. Typically the educational value lies in the simulation of social, historical or economic processes.
- City-building games such as the SimCity series (1989-2003) and Caesar I-IV (1993-2006, with many spin-offs)
- Civilization (computer game) series (1991-2005)
Software in corporate training and tertiary education
Earlier educational software for the important corporate and tertiary education markets was designed to run on a single desktop computer (or an equivalent user device). The history of such software is usefully summarised in the SCORM 2004 2nd edition Overview (section 1.3), unfortunately, however, without precise dates. In the years immediately following 2000, planners decided to switch to server-based applications with a high degree of standardisation. This means that educational software runs primarily on servers which may be hundreds or thousands of miles from the actual user. The user only receives tiny pieces of a learning module or test, fed over the internet one by one. The server software decides on what learning material to distribute, collects results and displays progress to teaching staff. Another way of expressing this change is to say that educational software morphed into an online educational service. US Governmental endorsements and approval systems ensured the rapid switch to the new way of managing and distributing learning material.
Software for specific educational purposes
This covers a diverse range of highly specific niche markets for educational software.
- Language learning software
- Typing tutors (Disney Interactive’s Adventures in Typing with Timon and Pumbaa is notable)
- Driving test software
- Software for enabling simulated disection of human and animal bodies (used in medical and vetinary college courses); cf. April Kung, "The Case for Educational Software in the Life Sciences" (2004)
Selected reports and academic articles
- Judi Johnson, “Then, Now and Beyond… A Look at the Past 30 Years of Educational Software” in Learning & Leading with Technology Volume 30 Number 7 (2003)
- Warren Buckleitner, “The State Of Children's Software Evaluation--Yesterday, Today And In The 21st Century” in Information Technology in Childhood Education (1999), 211-220
- Virvou, M., Katsionis, G., & Manos, K. (2005). "Combining Software Games with Education: Evaluation of its Educational Effectiveness." Educational Technology & Society, 8 (2), 54-65.
- J. Enrique Hinostrozam & Harvey Mellar, "Considering Pedagogy in the Design, Development and Evaluation of Educational Software" (2000?)
- Said Khalifa, Chris Bloor, Walter Middelton, Chris Jones. “Educational computer software, technical, criteria, and Quality” in Proceedings of the Information Systems Education Conference 2000
- "An Environmental Scan of Children’s Interactive Media from 2000 to 2002" (An executive summary prepared for by Just Kid Inc., June 2002)
Selected products and suppliers
Examples of educational software by subject
- English / language arts / literacy
- Dictionaries: Merriam-Webster dictionaries, Oxford English Dictionary
- Literacy at pre-school and primary levels: Learning Ladder series
- Foreign Languages
- Vocabulary trainers: Vocabulix, VTrain
- Geometry: The Geometer's Sketchpad
- Arithmetic: Smart Panda
- History and geography
- Art and music
- Children's Music Journey
Other kinds of educational software
- Managed learning environments
- Visual learning
Well-known brands and suppliers of educational software
- Jill Stolzfus, “Overview of Education Software Companies” (Latest update: 2005?)
- Adventus Interactive
- Dorling Kindersley
- Focus Multimedia
- Inspiration Software
- Knowledge Adventure
- The Learning Company
Related topics on Wikipedia
- Online learning
- Computer-assisted language learning
- Educational technology
- Educational game
- Intelligent tutoring system
- Instructional technology
- Virtual learning environmentde:Bildungssoftware
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