This page is chapter 4 in a five-chapter series of app categories included in our report Living and learning in a digital world on children’s digital habits during the year 2021.

RESEARCH BY APP CATEGORY

Education

What we found for educational apps

By September 2021, it was estimated that children worldwide had lost 1.8 trillion hours of in-class schooling since the start of the pandemic. The true effect of school closures on education is yet to be truly understood, but one thing is clear: the direct effect the pandemic has had on technology and the importance of EdTech in schools.

As seen with other categories, usage habits in education stabilized across 2021. Unlike in 2020, where education app popularity grew by 54%, global use grew by just 4% in 2021, with the return to the classroom meaning families no longer felt the need to encourage the use of educational apps at home. Globally, while time spent on classroom management apps such as Google Classroom showed little change, the time spent on learning experience apps such as Khan Academy, IXL, and Smartick increased, with kids spending 37% longer on Khan Academy, and 46% longer on IXL in 2021.

THE MOST POPULAR EDUCATION APPS

In terms of popularity, we have divided educational apps into two categories: classroom management, with apps that children most frequently use to connect with school, and learning apps, which, while not directly related to schooling, offer some form of educational benefit overall. 

In 2021, Google Classroom was the most popular classroom management system both on a global level and in every country we analyzed, showing it to be the app of choice for educators everywhere. 

Management apps that allow communication between students and educators also proved popular over the year, with Remind: School Communication and Canvas Student coming in second and third place. 

Despite the pandemic keeping many people at home worldwide, language-learning platform Duolingo remained the most popular educational app globally, and in all the countries we analyzed. In both Spain and the US, math problem-solving app Photomath claimed second place for 2021, while in the UK, game-based learning platform Kahoot! took the silver medal.

Since covid started I've had to do at-home learning, so having my Chromebook and going online has allowed me to do my homework and learn new things. I think it's okay but I'd rather be in school.
- Girl, 13, UK
If I need to search something I just type it. I normally code, I code on Scratch sometimes because it's fun, and I search up how to code on YouTube or maybe Google.
- Girl, 10, UK
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HOW MUCH TIME DID CHILDREN SPEND ON EDUCATIONAL APPS IN 2021?

Due to the nature of classroom management apps, time spent on this category was relatively short, with most students using school devices to access management tools via the web, rather than apps on their personal devices. Therefore, for this section, we focused our research on learning apps, where kids divided most of their time in terms of education. 

 

In 2021, children spent the most time on learning apps which integrate aspects of gaming, such as Kahoot!, Duolingo, and Quizlet. Globally, kids spent the most time on Kahoot!, averaging 15 mins/day on the quiz-based app. Children also made sure to get their daily dose of Duolingo, dedicating 12 mins/day to learning a new language. On newcomer to the global popularity charts, TED, kids spent 6 mins/day browsing “ideas worth spreading”. Kids in Spain spent the longest time on their favorite educational app, Smartick, averaging 26 mins/day improving their skills in reading comprehension and math. 

While not securing a position in the top 5 most popular learning apps for kids this year, the time spent on free learning app Khan Academy and subscription-based platform IXL increased significantly in 2021. Globally, kids spent an average of 38 mins/day on IXL, up from 26 mins/day, and 26 mins/day on Khan Academy, adding an average of 7 minutes a day to the 19 mins/day they spent in 2020.

Time kids spend on the most popular learning apps (avg. mins/day)

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Not to be put off by vacation season, globally children spent more time connected to educational apps over the northern-hemisphere summer, particularly in Spain, where school typically is out of session for 10-12 weeks between June and September. Globally, throughout the months of July and August, when children in all countries analyzed were not attending regular schooling, the average time on educational apps increased by 2 mins/day during typical school hours.   

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THE MOST BLOCKED EDUCATIONAL APPS IN 2021

Perhaps in an attempt to silence the famously persistent Duolingo owl, the app was the most-blocked app in all regions except Spain, where Google Classroom took the top spot, possibly reflecting safety concerns regarding children’s data privacy on the app. On a global level, Photomath was also a popular blocking choice for families, amidst criticism that the nature of the app amplifies student cheating.

THE MOST BLOCKED EDUCATIONAL APPS IN 2021

Perhaps in an attempt to silence the famously persistent Duolingo owl, the app was the most-blocked app in all regions except Spain, where Google Classroom took the top spot, possibly reflecting safety concerns regarding children’s data privacy on the app. On a global level, Photomath was also a popular blocking choice for families, amidst criticism that the nature of the app amplifies student cheating.

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What we expect for educational apps

Thanks to eLearning apps and classroom management systems, technology kept millions of children in an educational environment, even when there was no school to attend. Of course, while nothing can replace the importance of learning in the classroom, educational apps have secured their place as a useful tool in both parents’ and educators’ belts, allowing children to both consolidate and expand their knowledge in a way they feel comfortable with. 

We expect to see more gamification of learning apps and educational technology, as parents push their children towards games they see as more “productive”, and teachers look for new ways to involve technology in more traditional learning environments. 

The world of educational apps, when it comes to how our kids are using them, is more intentional and purposeful than other categories such as social media or video games. With children turning to learning apps to explore their hobbies and interests, check their homework, or revise educational concepts, we anticipate that in the future, the time children will devote to this particular category will remain stable – despite the diversification in EdTech and learning apps the future holds.

The internet helps me learn and teaches me how to solve questions. In the future I won't need its help and I'll be able to do it by myself.
- Boy, 10, US

What we recommend for educational apps

While, on the surface, time spent on educational apps can be seen as a positive, productive application of energy and time for children, we’d still recommend they use these apps with some form of balance in mind. Screen time is, after all, the sum of a whole, rather than individual parts. With children spending increased time on screens at school, and as a form of escape and entertainment, it’s important to ensure that the time they spend using technology is intentional, in order for them to truly enjoy its benefits. 

The digitization of schoolwork also comes with its downfalls: as more and more homework requirements and classwork move online, children’s dependence on technology also increases. Once the WiFi connection goes down, so does their access to the tools they “need” in order to be able to complete schoolwork. To decrease this reliance on technology, encourage “hands-on” learning wherever possible. Turn to books instead of ebooks, get out the pen and paper for study time, or take a trip to the library for some old-school style research.

In school I don't understand anything that's going on, so I have to look on Wikipedia for everything I need, because it's all on there.
- Boy, 11, Spain
I don't like the fact that technology is dependent on power and WiFi. If for some reason these things go down there's nothing we can do to complete our work and there's no way to retrieve it.
- Boy, 13, US