Finding just the right app among the tens of thousands for iPad, Android and Windows devices, however, can be challenging. Here, we take a look at some of the best education apps for people of all ages across a range of devices, and ask education technology experts: just what makes a good app?
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Rory’s Story CubesRory’s Story Cubes
(iPad/iPhone: €1.99, Android: €1.79)
Developed by Irish woman Anita Murphy and her husband, Rory O’Connor, this is one of the most popular education apps out there, and deservedly so. Rory’s Story Cubes is a game designed to spark the imagination and can be played with equal relish by children and adults, together or separately. It can be played in a group or alone. The game consists of 54 images on nine cubes, with each cube generating an image that will feature in a story, which helps build creativity, critical-thinking skills, problem-solving, and literacy development. And it’s fun. Almost three million story cubes have been sold worldwide.
Suitable for: all ages.
(iPad/iPhone: €6.99, Android: free, but with in-app purchases, Windows: free)
A popular and fun app for building up the ABCs of younger children. There’s an interactive puzzle to go along with each word, including talking letters and a short animation. There’s no pressure such as high scores or fails, so children can explore it at their own pace; maybe not one for parents who want to push their kids a bit harder.
Suitable for: ages two to six.
(iPad/iPhone: free, developed by KwikApps)
A twist on a hangman-style game where, instead of a comical take on the death penalty, players have to keep a balloon-holding gorilla afloat. There’s a focus on vocabulary and spelling.
Suitable for: ages six to 10.
My First 101 Words
(iPad/iPhone: €1.99, developed by Blueprint.tv)
Another one for toddlers learning their words, but rather than touch, text and voice, these words are demonstrated through video clips, and there’s a host of interactive features.
Suitable for: toddlers.
(iPad/ iPhone,€1.99, developed by Nessy Learning Ltd)
One of the best apps for young people with dyslexia, unfortunately confined to iOS platforms. Dyslexia Quest consists of six games that develop learning abilities and can email results to teachers and/or parents. It talks users through difficulties and shows where improvements can be made.
Suitable for: three age ranges: seven to 10; 11-16; and 17 and up.
Not an app as such, but a useful website full of practical literacy skills for adults, including how to discern between fact and opinion; the sounds of English; recognising letters and words; and reading for pleasure. See also the National Adult Literacy Agency for furtherL
(iPad/iPhone, Android, Windows: free, developed by Duolingo)
It’s hard to believe this is free, and that you’re not using it right now. It’s a rather extraordinary yet beautifully simple idea: users learn a language for free and, as they progress, help to translate documents and websites. So far, Duolingo offers French, German, Latin-American Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, and Irish for English speakers. It’s arguably the single most useful and revolutionary app featured in this entire list.
Since its launch, it has become one of the most downloaded apps in the world.
It’s useful for primary-school children starting to learn a language, secondary-school students and college students facing exams, and any adult who just wants to brush up on their language skills – whether for that backpacking trip to South America or just because it’s about time you stopped talking about how you’d love to improve your Irish and just do it.
Who needs grinds or special language classes? That said, it’s much more suitable for serious language learners than it is for tourists looking to grab a few phrases.
Suitable for: everybody.
(iPad/iPhone, Android: free, with in-app purchase options)
DuoLingo’s main competition. While it does cost some money, it is particularly useful for building up conversational skills or for people going on holidays or travelling and who need to build up a few phrases. There’s a decent selection of languages, including French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, English, German, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Polish, Turkish and Indonesian.
Suitable for: everyone.
(iPad/iPhone, Android, free, developed by TG4)
A selection of Irish-language apps targeted at primary school children, and far more interesting than the achingly dull Irish-language projector (Mamaí, Daidí, liathróid, madra) that will be bitterly remembered by anyone over 30. Never again. These are very useful learning aids.
Suitable for: children, especially those who struggle with Irish.
(iPad/iPhone: €1.99, Android, €1.68 developed by Maithu)
An affordable app for adults who want to brush up on their Irish-language skills.
Suitable for: ages 14 and over.
(iPad/iPhone, Android, free, developed by PokeTheBear)
An app for Leaving Cert students, broken down into simple sets of discussions, vocabulary and useful phrases. It’s written by expert teachers and recorded by native Irish speakers in high-quality sound. Excellent and recommended.
IXL Maths Practice IXL Maths Practice
(iPad/iPhone, Android, free)
Possibly the most relevant of all maths apps for Irish students. This carefully tracks the core curriculum from junior infants right through to sixth year of secondary school. Five-year-olds will count the number of dots on the screen, while those in fifth year will be looking at logarithms and trigonometry. There’s plenty of visually engaging material and word problems. On the downside, however, much of the content is perhaps too close to the curriculum, so it might be a bit dull for some users, particularly older pupils. The app is free for limited use, but IXL membership offers added benefits. See ixl.com for details.
Suitable for: all primary and secondary school pupils, as well as adults who would like to improve their maths skills.
Mystery Math Town
(iPad/ iPhone, €3.99, developed by Artgig Studio)
An engaging game for children aged five and over. It’s part maths and part hide-and-seek, with a curious ghost rescuing fireflies, talking to townspeople on the way and unlocking rooms and passages. Players start with the answer and use a combination of numbers to solve the problem. A sneaky way to get kids to do extra maths; they’ll barely even notice there are numbers involved.
Suitable for: ages five to eight.
(iPad/ iPhone: €2.99, Android: €3.25, developed by Wombi apps)
This is a fun, simple and interactive game that helps preschoolers to learn to count from one to 20. A chatty monster talks children through the steps they need to take, and to suit children of differing abilities, parents can also enable visual cues at a setting.
There are two levels in this visually appealing game. It doesn’t do much beyond the basics, however, so much of the value lies in the game element.
Suitable for: ages two to five.
Symmetry School: Learning Geometry
(iPad/ iPhone, €3.99)
This brain-teasing game, designed by Irish firm PixelSoup, is for children of all abilities and levels. It focuses on geometry, getting kids to explore symmetry and shapes through puzzles. Kids who use Symmetry School will build on their capacity for spatial reasoning, problem-solving and visualisation. (It’s also possible that a journalist or two might also have enjoyed playing with this one. Ahem.)
It’s a great success story for Irish app developers, having shot to the top of the iTunes education app charts in its first week of release. Not the cheapest app out there, but worth the price.
Suitable for: ages four to nine.
Math WorkoutMath Workout
(iPad/iPhone, Android, free)
A few years ago, brain-training games were in vogue. Interest has waned somewhat, but adults should try and keep their reasoning and logic skills sharp, and maths is a great way of doing it. Math Workout was inspired by the Japanese Kumon education method, which is becoming increasingly popular in Ireland and across the western world. It features daily brain-training exercises and maths drills.
It’s easy to see why this hugely addictive and enjoyable game is so popular. You’ll be keen to beat your own scores and improve; I’ve been skipping coffee during the mid-afternoon slump and playing Math Workout instead.
Suitable for: teens and adults
Music and Art
Little Composers Little Composers
(all devices, free, developed by Little Composers)
Various innovators and entrepreneurs are carving out their own little niches in the app world. The Canadian team behind Little Composers have created what may be the best music apps for younger kids, and they’re available on all tablets, smartphones, Macs and PCs.
There are four apps, each designed for children at a specific stage. Those as young as two or three can easily figure out the intuitive Noah app: the big animals (including zebras, giraffes and crocodiles) that appear on screen can be tapped like a piano key to produce a sound; the smaller animals (including birds and fish) are used to compose a short melody. From here, they graduate to Prepiano, where a simple keyboard triggers the sounds. Next, the Creative Children Compose Music app is a more complex system for children with some experience of other Little Composers apps. Finally, an app called Little Composers is an intuitive system to help children memorise the 10 most important note names.
Suitable for: Children, or anyone of any age who is starting to learn music.
(iPad/iPhone, €4.99, developed by Apple)
A full recording studio with piano, organ, guitar and drums, allowing users to make music wherever they are. This has been a game-changing app for many musicians, which has enabled professionals and amateurs to write, record and share their music. The sounds are true-to-life and, with a bit of practice, the tools are easy to use. One nifty feature is the ability to use wifi or Bluetooth to record live with up to three friends.
The new version of GarageBand also has pre-recorded music lessons for download. Creative, musical and technical.
Suitable for: All ages. Younger kids will bang on the instruments, while older kids and adults can get creative.
(iPad/iPhone, 99c, developed by Musicteachers.co.uk)
The perfect app for music students, from primary to third-level and beyond. It’s designed to test and improve note reading, and it’s played as a game against the clock.
Teachers will find it useful for both beginners and advanced students, but it can also be played at home.
Suitable for: It’s particularly useful for any young person learning how to play an instrument from note, but adults who are finally following through on that resolution to play an instrument will also find it handy.
See also: Notes! – Learn to Read Music (iOS).
Biophilia by Björk
(iPad/iPhone: €12.99, Android: ¤9.99, developed by Second Wind Apps)
A visually stunning and musically enchanting app that broke down the barriers between sound, science, the natural world and art. Developed by the Icelandic star Björk in collaboration with artists, designers, scientists, writers, instrument makers and software developers, it’s an exploration of the universe and how it works through music and art. It’s not necessarily just for Björk fans; you’ll learn something too. So good it’s now a part of the New York Museum of Modern Art.
Suitable for: all ages. Most people will find something of interest on this app.
(iPad, free but in-app purchases available, developed by Sebastien Bachorzewski)
This fun and creative app starts with a sock or glove before kids add eyes, nose, mouth and other features using buttons, strands and various ornaments. This is a somewhat unusual app in that it’s designed to encourage children to get off the computer and create their own real art. They can, for instance, make their own physical artistic backgrounds for the sock puppets – which they can then upload to the app – and it also inspires them to make their own physical puppets.
Suitable for: all children, and it’s a game that families can play together.
(iPad/iPhone, Android, free, developed by Art.sy. Inc)
One for adults, art students and young people interested in exploring the art world. This rather special app allows users to explore, collect and share more than 100,000 art works from some of the world’s top galleries and museums. Updated daily.
Suitable for: all ages.
An app that’s especially useful for children (or adults) with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It provides extra motivation and rewards for completing tasks or chores through a star award system. You can also track your child’s progress over the course of a few weeks.
Suitable for: children, especially those under 12.
Science and Technology
Green World Colouring
(iPad, free; coming soon to Android; developed by Strawberry Moose)
DIT graduate and Irish entrepreneur Gavin Hughes has created a gorgeous colouring-book app for children, which teaches about climate change and renewable energy in a fun and accessible way.
There’s information on wind, water, geothermal, solar and bioenergy and a short, bite-sized message accompanying each page, as well as tips on how kids can conserve energy. Each page can be printed directly or shared online.
Suitable for: children under 10 or children who enjoy colouring.
Pop Science Kids Game
(Android, free but with in-app purchase options, developed by Happy Girl Apps)
Sounds, planets, weather, cars, physics, the elements, inventions and more: it’s all on this interactive game bursting with sights and sounds. Kids progress through levels, which reinforces key concepts. The free version is limited; if kids enjoy it, it’s worth signing up for the relatively cheap paid app.
Suitable for: ages five to 12.
(iPad/iPhone, €1.99, developed by GazilliWorldLLC)
Buy why? Yeah, but why? And why is that? This will shut them up: this app is designed for younger kids who want to know about some of the basics of science, including plants, the seasons, and floating and sinking. It’s presented in storybook style with audio narration, and it’s highly interactive.
Children with autism-spectrum disorders have responded well to GazilliScience. Developer GazilliWorld also has a range of other apps for children, including maths, puzzles, shapes, words and letters.
Suitable for: ages three to seven, although children under five might need a little extra support.
(iPad/ iPhone, Android, from ¤2.99, developed by Simulation Curriculum Corporation)
Probably the best of the astronomy apps, and one the entire family can enjoy. The app shows the roughly 46,000 stars visible in the Earth’s night sky and an accurate version of the sky from any place on the planet – now, and 100 years into the past and future.
It also features the main comets, asteroids, nebulae and galaxies, hundreds of images from the Hubble Space Telescope and Nasa space missions, with more features available on the more expensive versions.
Suitable for: everyone.
(iPhone/ iPad, Android, free, developed by Shine Technologies Pty Ltd)
For when you know the anti-vaccination, anti-fluoride, pro-homeopathy person or climate change denier sitting opposite you, or fighting with you on Twitter or Facebook, is talking nonsense. This app puts the latest peer-reviewed science at the touch of a button. It’s fun, witty and provides an evidence-based comeback for well-intentioned or utterly stupid statements on contentious scientific issues.
Suitable for: ages 12 until death.
(iPhone/iPad, Android, Windows, Kindle, free, developed by TED Conferences)
An online archive of some of the most interesting and digestible science and technology talks – although almost any subject you can imagine is covered here. It’s a well-designed app and there’s content for students sitting exams as well as adults who just want to expand their minds.
Suitable for: various ages.
(iPhone/iPad, Android, free, developed by Object Enterprises)
Close to 100 useful and inspirational videos of hands-on science lessons covering a range of topics, with a focus on experiments that can be produced at home and in the classroom.
Suitable for: all ages.
(iPad, free, developed by TwoLivesLeft)
Coding is an important and under-taught subject, but there are plenty of apps and sites to teach the skills. Coding is a technical skill but, more importantly, there’s arguably no better way to develop logical thinking, problem-solving and creativity. CargoBot, a game where you teach a robot to use crates, is a relatively challenging and surprisingly efficient app for learning about coding and how to think like a computer. The game itself was programmed entirely on an iPad. It’s engaging, fun and just a little addictive for children and adults.
Suitable for: ages 10 until death.
Daisy the Dinosaur
(iPad, free, developed by Hopscotch Technologies)
A fun introduction to coding that allows children to move Daisy the dinosaur about. It’s basic and functional, but a good place to start.
Suitable for: ages five to 10.
Study and Time Management
(iPad/iPhone, Android, Windows, free, developed by QuestiaMedia Inc)
Are textbooks and academic journals on the way out? The rise of apps such as Questia are opening up much more interesting avenues of research for secondary and college students . This phenomenal resource allows access to more than 80,000 books, 100,000 articles and 7,000 research topics. Just make sure to give due credit to your sources: nobody likes a plagiarist.
Suitable for: ages 12 and up.
(iPad/iPhone, Android, Windows, free, premium packages with additional tools available, developed by RescueTime)
There’s no time to waste when you’re studying – or, indeed, when you’re self-employed or working on a particular project. There’s a whole heap of hours tracker apps out there, but RescueTime is particularly useful for studying. It runs silent (but deadly) in the background of your computer and mobile devices, measuring how much time you’re spending on apps and websites. It can also block distracting websites. Overall, a very effective tool for improving productivity.
Suitable for: ages 12 and up.
(iPad/iPhone, Android, free, but in-app purchases available, developed by Dulcetta Inc)
Part study app, part music app, this claims to increase users’ attention spans by up to 400 per cent by increasing focus through playing particular types of music at just the right time. It is, or claims to be, based on neuroscience. And there are some good productivity features too.
Suitable for: ages 12 and up.
(Android, free, developed by makeramen)
One of the many “to-do” list apps out there, but one of the simpler, cleaner and better ones. Take each task for the day one at a time. Allocate a set amount of time for it, and work against the clock. At the end, a ding indicates time up, and you can then measure how much you’ve done.
Suitable for: ages 12 and up.
An app that’s especially useful for children (or adults) with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It provides extra motivation and rewards for completing tasks or chores through a star-award system. You can also track your child’s progress over a few weeks.
Suitable for: children, especially those under the age of 12.