Apps and learning benefits

Learning games and apps can be successful tools for teaching 21st century skills.

By Scott Steinberg


Parenting expert Scott Steinberg is the creator of the The Modern Parent’s Guide book series and host of popular video show Family Tech: Technology for Parents and Kids. Scott is hailed as a top voice for today’s high-tech generation by dozens of publications from USA Today to Forbes and NPR. A proud parent and working professional, he claims he'll sleep when they start giving away a free lifetime supply of anxiety medication with each new child.

Given their vivid graphics, rich characters and backdrops, and often clear-cut mission objectives, apps, video games and technology toys may give the initial impression of leaving little to the imagination. But in actuality, they’re among the most successful tools parents can tap into to encourage creativity, allowing children to experiment with situations, scenarios and approaches in safe, fun and inventive contexts. Benefits these 21st century options offer tots of all ages include:

  • A Sense of Perspective – Part of the fun of playing make-believe is that you can be anyone or anything. Frequently offering kids the chance to experience scenarios from multiple viewpoints (e.g., superhero or misunderstood villain), digital diversions often encourage them to expand their horizons. In the real world, few scenarios and conflicts can be defined in shades of black and white. By letting you don a variety of virtual personas, high-tech play helps promote empathy and understanding. It reveals that what can seem like a simple or clear-cut issue from one viewpoint may actually be more complex when examined from another perspective.
  • The Ability to Transcend Limits – In the real world, fear of failure can hold kids back from recognizing their true potential. This fear prompts us to keep silent when we should speak up; it enables us to accept the status quo rather than risk of embarrassment or disappointing parents or peers. But failure is how we learn—experimenting, getting feedback and iterating are vital to growth and development. No such limits exist in the virtual world, where kids must constantly try, fail, tinker and try new approaches to accomplish tasks. Through these environments, kids learn that it’s OK to lose—that’s how people eventually discover how to win.
  • Enhanced Problem-Solving Ability – Many apps and games offer linear solutions to problems, but the best leave room for kids to color outside the lines and to try new and novel approaches to overcoming obstacles. All require poking, prodding and testing to discover the right combination of actions needed to achieve victory or success. Teaching self-reliance, dynamic decision-making and the value of finding new and novel ways to look at every challenge, role-play games help kids to be more imaginative and to think strategically.
  • Greater Appreciation for Teamwork – Numerous apps and games incorporate cooperative, multiplayer and online elements, letting children connect with other players just like themselves. While competitive play is a common option, so too is collaborative fun. Kids can team up to accomplish tasks such as defeating powerful villains or locating lost treasures. These software selections teach the importance of teamwork, delegating authority and steering multiple individuals (many of whom may possess widely different backgrounds and skills) towards common goals. All promote teamwork and strength in diversity.