Why Aren’t Schools Using the Apps They Pay For?

With thousands of education apps available today, it can seem like students’ success is in the palm of their hands. But easy to forget is that technology is not in itself a solution. For it to work as intended, it must be paired with other critical elements: professional development for teachers, thoughtful implementation and consistent engagement.

A new report that analyzes 1.48 million hours of technology usage by 390,000 students across 48 U.S. school districts underscores this point.School leaders expect students and teachers to be using their licensed apps all the time, says Ryan Baker, director of the University of Pennsylvania Center for Learning Analytics. But in reality, most of the apps schools adopt are neglected.

“Schools will buy these licenses, and then they never really get touched,” says Baker, who analyzed the data and co-authored the report.That’s an especially big problem for the education apps that are designed for “relatively intensive usage,” he adds, because only at that level can the apps be expected to lead to their promised learning outcomes.

The study, from a K-12 data management company BrightBytes, used data collected from the company’s analytics platform to measure learning outcomes from digital apps through three primary lenses. First is investment—how much a subscription costs, how many licenses a school has and how active its users are. Second is engagement—how many students use an app, how long they use it, how often they use it and how they feel about it. The third lens is impact—whether students’ use of an app has any bearing, positive or negative, on standardized test scores.