Every day hundreds of new apps reach the market. It is difficult finding apps that are suitable but also when looking at an app knowing “is this going to help my child?” When I look at purchasing an app for therapy I approach it from a neuroscience perspective, I want the answer to “is this app going to cause change?” “is it going to alter those pathways in the brain and have a long lasting impact?”

 How do we foster learning with technology?

Neuroscience has helped us understand the brain, it has taught us how the brain learns. We now know that the stronger the connections between the neurons* in the brain the better we learn and retain the information that has been taught. But how do we foster these stronger connections in our children? Through applying neuroscience principles of learning we can help foster stronger brain pathways. Neuroscience principles can be applied in any type of learning, not just with the use of technology. These neuroscience principles help the child engage with the work and learn.

Engagement is crucial

These neuroscience principles include;

  • Feedback– ask yourself does this app provide feedback? how does it provide feedback? some apps provide auditory feedback informing the student of the incorrect choice, others provide visual cues to help assist the child in choosing the correct answer. Feedback is an important principle to consider. Feedback allows the child to learn from possible errors. It also helps to facilitate attention for the child, this releases the neurotransmitter* acetylcholine* that promotes focused attention.
  • Reward– is this app rewarding? does it use music? are there characters that praise your child for correctly answering the question? Reward is highly important as it motivates your child to continue with the exercise. Reward driven activities help to release the neurotransmitter dopamine* which also aids attention and focus. Remember if you are completing the task with your child you can provide the reward and praise.
  • Novelty– is there a level of novelty? is it a new way to learn? is it an interesting, exciting way to target the goal? You will find most apps provide this, as using a tablet device has a level of novelty involved. Novelty is important as it releases the neurotransmitter norepinephrine* which assists alertness and arousal. It is important to remember to target goals in a variety of ways using a variety of tools, not just tablets, as this increases the level of novelty each time the goal is targeted.
  • Repetition– does this app provide repetition of the goal? is the repetition presented in a different format each time? is the repetition engaging? Repetition is crucial as it allows the child to master the goal, it allows practice.
  • Adaptive– can you alter the level of complexity? can you alter rewards/voices/sounds? can you adjust the goals being targeted in the app or are they preset? With all therapy, the best therapy is that which is specifically targeted to the child. Therefore is should go without saying that apps should have the ability to be individualised.

You may find that all the above principles can not be applied to every app, however it is important when choosing an app that they are considered as this will foster your child’s learning.

* Definitions
Neuron – a cell that transmits and receives information through chemical or electric signals
Neurotransmitter – is a chemical that is released from a neuron and helps to send signals from one neuron to the next
Acetylcholine – a neurotransmitter that promotes focused attention
Dopamine – a reward driven neurotransmitter that supports attention
Norepinephrine – a neurotransmitter responsible for attention