Mobile learning & edugames taking off worldwide

Whether it’s the chicken or the egg – the device or the edugames – fueling the growth isn’t completely clear, but “tablets are proliferating everywhere across the planet,” said Sam Adkins, head of research for market research firm Ambient Insight, at the Serious Play Conference in Redmond, Wash., last week. He was referring to mobile learning – especially on tablets, where school’s concerned – and uptake is much bigger worldwide than I thought. About all that Americans have heard about tablet adoption was the recent widely reported story that the Los Angeles Unified School District plans to provide iPads to all of its 640,000 students by late next year (see Citeworld.com).

Adkins mentioned national-level school-based tablet projects in Singapore, Thailand, India, and Turkey, pointing to the news last spring that the Turkish government plans to purchase more than 10 million tablets for that country’s 42,000 public schools (TabletsforSchools.org reports it plans to distribute more than 17 million to schools by 2015). That source also mentions projects in seven other countries, including Kazakhstan, which will reportedly provide 83,000 tablets to schools by 2020.

In the World Bank’s EduTech blog, senior policy specialist Michael Trucano includes laptops in his survey digital learning, pointing to national projects in Kenya, Uruguay, Peru, Argentina, and Portugal too. But “most of the large proposals for educational technology programs that come across my desk these days highlight the use of tablets,” he writes.

Not just iPads

These are not necessarily iPads. Part of what enables all this adoption is low-cost tablets. The Indian government’s e-learning program uses the Akash tablet, which costs students $50 (as volume climbs, that’s expected to come down to $35) and retails at $70, according to Wikipedia. Smartphones are coming down too – Adkins mentioned a $40 one by Samsung, which he said is “the real game-changer now,” representing serious competition to Apple in smartphones. As for serious competition in the education market, he also mentioned Amplify, the News Corp. tablet-for-schools project that’s “bringing 35 edugames to US K-12 education by late this year” by – pre-loading them on the Android tablets it sells schools (see this).

Big market for little-kid games

Adkins suggests it’s the chicken that comes first: “Massive adoption of tablets in schools worldwide is the catalyst for mobile learning.” But there’s also huge demand for edugames before kids even get to school in most countries, his data shows. “Early childhood learning games are the top selling mobile edugames in most countries.” Of the 33 game-based learning companies that got funded in 2012-13, Adkins said, 23 were development games for the mobile platform, and 20 of them were targeting early childhood.

Worldwide demand for game-based learning, in terms of numbers, “reached $1.5 billion in 2012,” he said, and – at a global growth rate of 8.3% – the market will reach $2.3 billion by 2017. In fact, the market is “entering its mature phase” – stable, with steady revenues, Adkins said. “The top countries for mobile edugame sales in 2012 were the US, Japan, South Korea, China, and India, respectively.” Indonesia and Brazil will edge out South Korea and Japan by 2017. But even though African countries don’t show up in the Top 5, “Africa is way more advanced on the mobile platform than we are,” he said. “‘It’s no longer useful to talk about the digital divide’,” he quoted an African leader as saying to him. I’ve heard this elsewhere, too. “Africa takes lead in mobile revolution” was the headline in the Financial Times last spring. “The majority go online via their handset rather than a desktop or laptop,” but with features phones, not smartphones, which represent only 20% of mobile phones on the continent, where Chinese-build Android phones could be had last December for $50, TechCrunch reported). And 2012 market research “puts the annual growth rate [for mobile sales in Africa] at an astonishing 44% since the year 2000,” reports economist Simon Andersson in his blog. He cites 2012 World Bank data showing that “there were more than 648.4 million mobile phone subscriptions in Africa in 2011, more than in either the United States or the European Union.”

Parents & app stores

Worldwide, “consumers gravitate to edugames for kids and brain-training games for adults,” Adkins reported, and consumers – not schools or other institutions – are the No. 1 market. Where kids’ games are concerned, that’s parents. We’re a big part of the explanation for the robust global edugames market. Accessibility is another big reason – app stores. Their numbers have been soaring too – online stores from Apple, Microsoft, Google and Amazon. As of the beginning of this year, “Apple has app stores in 155 countries, up from 90 countries the year before,” Adkins reported. During 2012, “Microsoft had app stores in 37 more countries – most of them in developing ones. Paid Android apps are now available in Google Play stores in 134 countries.” But Amazon app stores are multiplying fastest. Their number is slated to grow from 7 last March to more than 200 this year. Last May, Amazon was “the first Western company to offer a platform for paid Android apps in China,” according to Ambient Insight.

Sites that give the global app picture

If you’re curious to see the top game, educational, music, lifestyle, etc. apps for various devices,there are two great app-tracking sites: AppAnnie.com and Distimo. For example, here are the US’s top educational games in Google’s Play Store, ranked by Distimo.com: paid games and free games. [You can look up other countries' top-ranking games there too.]

Among many other groupings, AppAnnie.com has the Top 5 paid and free games in more than 150 countries at a glance (or as you scroll) here. Clicking on an app icon takes you to a description of the game and a whole lot more information, such as in-app purchases players at your house might be tempted to make (e.g., here‘s the page for Candy Crush Saga, which you probably know is very hot right now. For example, here’s the page for the Top 5 paid and free educational games for the iPhone and the iPad in all the countries. AppAnnie’s charts tell you instantly whether an app includes in-app purchases (with a little green $ next to the title).

I’m telling you all this not just because I found it fascinating that barriers to mobile learning are coming down worldwide and not just because the vast majority of US children play digital games (even back in 2008, Pew Internet found that 97% of US 12-to-17-year-olds played digital games). I’m also sharing this to give you some context for this powerful new phenomenon in school and family life. Parents and educators everywhere are interested in harnessing the power of technology for personal as well as economic development and the social good – knowing how compelling mobile and tablet games are for people everywhere, not just our children.

Sidebar: What is game-based learning?

What exactly are we talking about here? Game-based learning, not “gamification.” The latter, as Adkins put it, is just game elements “bolted on” to traditional learning or training. Game-based learning, rather, includes some form of competition (against oneself or others), clear learning objectives, and a reward/penalty system related to being tested or assessed. You win when you’ve accomplished the learning objectives, whether your own or a teacher’s.

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