How to create a phenomenal learning app – a comparison of self-study tools

In a world where time is limited, and the need for competence development and knowledge acquisition is constantly increasing, we are looking for tools that can easily and quickly assist us in this process. We know from experience that we enjoy those learning methods that don’t require us to invest a lot of time the most. So, we tested several self-study apps in terms of usability and how knowledge is acquired. What do we think are their advantages and disadvantages? Which apps are worth giving a try? What are the characteristics of a good self-study app? Let’s look for answers together!

Let’s start with a language learning app! 

Duolingo

Anyone who learns languages through mobile apps is certainly familiar with the Duolingo. It stands out from all other language learning apps. What are its characteristics, and why is it chosen so often?

The learning process in this application can be compared to an educational journey in which we are accompanied from the very beginning by the brand hero – the green Wise Owl. The app offers dozens of languages, so there is something for everyone there to try. 

source: Duolingo

The courses are mostly linear and allow the user to follow a path divided into sections, complete with short oral and written exercises and genre scenes. This allows us to test the knowledge we have acquired ourselves and find out what else we can improve. 

It is important that the app encourages the user to interact with it on a daily basis and continuously improve on particular topics and skills. It uses a reward and gamification system to achieve this. After some time, using the application and gaining new levels turns into great fun. 

source: Duolingo

Upon installation, we choose our level of commitment to learning, and in the following days, the app sends us notifications, diligently reminding us of the next lesson waiting for us. By completing the exercises regularly and on a daily basis and interacting with the app, you can earn points and improve your position on the leaderboard (gamification elements). This allows us to compare our results with those of other Duolingo users.

What do we like about it? 

  • The gamification element
  • Continuous monitoring of your performance
  • Interactions with the application
  • Support for regular learning
  • Differentiated exercises within lessons
  • Error correction in the exercises at the expense of previously earned points

What don’t we like about it? 

  • Learning only with the app does not allow you to become fluent in the language
  • The lessons focus more on memorizing concepts than on learning grammar

Memrise

At the very beginning, similarly to what Duolingo does, the app gives you the option to set a goal (how many new vocabulary items per day you want to learn). Thus, we observe the importance of establishing a goal to strive for, which supports motivation to learn on a regular daily basis. In Memrise, we can set our native language and then select one of five languages to learn.

source: Memrise

Learning involves using words in specific phrases and sentences. Native speakers facilitate the process of acquiring knowledge and skills. It definitely has a positive effect on correct pronunciation. The lessons consist of multiple repetitions of a phrase as well as written and voice exercises.

source: Memrise

We can track our progress by checking how much of the material we have already learned and where we are on the leaderboard.

At the intermediate level, which we chose to test the app, words and phrases are quite colloquial, which supports basic and unaffected foreign language skills. The learning process is designed to ensure a gradual and regular expansion of vocabulary.

What do we like about it? 

  • The possibility to share your achievements (gamification element)
  • A function allowing you to scan any word and automatically translate it
  • Frequent repetition of a word or phrase until it is memorized (speaking and writing) 

What don’t we like about it? 

  • Focusing only on learning vocabulary and not grammar
  • Learning with the app does not result in learning to speak the language fluently 
  • Simple and uncluttered design
  • When exercising, the keyboard built into the app does not allow you to use it freely

Busuu

When registering in the application, we choose the language we want to learn. The app helps determine our level of proficiency, up to what level we want to develop new skills and why. You can also set a daily learning goal.

source: Busuu

The app offers a premium plan through which we can create a learning plan to help us reach our goal by a deadline we set.

The tool is very intuitive and clear. Each lesson is divided into different types of exercises, such as sentence formation, word matching, and listening comprehension. What sets the app apart from the other language learning apps is the ability to send written or voice responses to the Busuu community. This allows us to check the correctness of our statement but also to evaluate and help other users. 

source: Busuu

The system for vocabulary and grammar learning is created in a very accessible way, and in this respect, the exercises are much more developed than in other apps. By gaining levels and completing lessons, users feel as if they are learning in a real language school. The app is geared towards practical language use and learning, less so towards providing fun.

What do we like about it?

  • Clear and professional design
  • A wide variety of exercises
  • Combining vocabulary and grammar learning
  • The ability to interact with other app users
  • Establishing an individualized learning plan

What don’t we like about it?

  • The buttons and their descriptions in some parts of the application are too small
  • The location of the button to start a new course

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Pimsleur

If you are looking for a language learning app that offers different forms of learning, Pimsleur is the one for you! The app offers up to 51 languages and is built based on the Pimsleur Method – learning from podcasts and listening comprehension. 

source: Pimsleur

By selecting a language, we begin a 30-minute audio lesson that can be downloaded and played anytime, anywhere. The app has an auto mode that makes it easy to use while driving. Additionally, it also connects seamlessly to home devices like Alexa. 

After listening to the audio lesson and getting familiar with the material, you choose one of the five forms of exercises and continue learning. The application uses Spaced Repetition System (SRS), a method based on interval learning, which involves cyclical repetition of material in different forms (listening, reading, writing, doing exercises).

source: Pimsleur

What do we like about it?

  • The option to complete one free lesson before creating an account
  • A virtual teacher who explains the tasks in detail
  • A possibility of using the flashcards
  • Shaking the phone takes you to the Helpdesk 

What don’t we like about it?

  • The application takes too long to load
  • There are no subtitles displayed during lessons
  • There is no confirmation of the correctness of the repeated word
  • The price ($550 for 5 levels) 

Rosetta Stone

An app that originated in the 1990s and unfortunately sort of remains within this period. We need approximately 30 minutes to complete each lesson, which can be a barrier for people who are looking for a tool to learn quickly in their spare time. There is no meaningful and educational context when doing exercises, which does not facilitate learning, especially at the elementary level. 

The app places a lot of emphasis on connecting phrases and words with pictures, so it will be ideal for visual learners. Last year the iOS app received an update and introduced augmented reality, so it got an interesting “Search and Speak” feature of pointing your phone’s camera at an object and getting it translated to the language you’re learning.

What do we like about it? 

  • Honestly? Not much

What don’t we like about it? 

  • The only login option is to create an account
  • There are no translations into the native language during exercises
  • There is no information about the fact that lessons are given with the phone in the horizontal position

More than a language app. Let’s look at other examples!

Elevate

Personalized and regular brain training? Sounds like a challenge, but thanks to the Elevate app, it’s also exciting and fun. When using it, the aim is to find three new games in which we can earn rewards. The daily training is divided into five parts, and each part ends with an analysis of the results. We can keep track of our progress and share it on social media.

source: Elevate

The app is aimed rather at more advanced users of English and offers a range of disciplines. By default, the user’s proficiency in English grammar and vocabulary should be at a higher level to make using the application enjoyable for the user. This is because the app does not contain resources that can help you improve your language skills and build knowledge from lower to higher levels.

source: Elevate

What do we like about it? 

  • 40 games to support and improve brain function
  • Tracking and analyzing results
  • Very futuristic design 
  • The content is prepared by experts in their fields

What don’t we like about it? 

  • High difficulty level (but it is compensated by the satisfaction of getting better scores)

Brilliant

A completely different way of learning – fun, intuitive, challenging but not intimidating. More interesting, engaging and fun than similar learning apps. This experience is like combining mini-courses with puzzles and games. The main area is, broadly speaking, science subjects (e.g., math, development, engineering, statistics, finance) or logical thinking. The app offers over 60 different STEM courses, and each course includes quizzes and gamification assignments, which constitute a huge part of the learning process. Before starting the course, you need to answer a few questions. Based on that, the algorithm offers the best development options linked to your goals.

source: Brilliant

Brilliant can be used by a variety of users: 

  • Individuals who want to improve their professional skills
  • Students
  • Teachers (there is an option to use Brilliant.org for their students)
  • Parents who can purchase a subscription for their children
source: Brilliant

What do we like about it?

  • Geeky design
  • Strong emphasis on logical thinking
  • A 7-day free trial
  • Group challenges

What don’t we like about it?

  • High level of difficulty
  • The application is 100% in English, making it difficult to understand more complex topics if English is not your native language 

Quizlet

Quizlet is a flashcard app with smart features that can handle images, diagrams, different languages, and even audio streaming. It is ideal for memorizing stuff at your own pace. You can create learning sets, access learning sets created by instructors, or view sets created by other users. The tool is smarter than most flashcard apps, so it effectively encourages you to work on topics you don’t yet remember instead of repeating what you already know.

source: Quizlet
source: Quizlet

With a decent free account and many advanced features in the Plus version, Quizlet is a great tool for students or anyone who wants to learn. It is also one of our highest rated online education services for children.

What do we like about it?

  • Easy and accessible design
  • You can create, share and find learning sets from other users
  • Language support; great for language studies
  • A wide choice of learning modes (flashcards, writing, listening, games)
  • The ability to add your own learning materials

What don’t we like about it?

  • Many features are only available to Plus members
  • In the free version, ads interfere with the aesthetics of the application

Coursera

It is a platform offering professional, certified courses prepared by prestigious universities and top companies operating in various industries. It offers more than 5,000 accredited courses that can be completed to certify your knowledge to future employers or educational institutions

source: Coursera
source: Coursera

What do we like about it?

  • Courses can be downloaded and completed at any time
  • Inside the courses, you can find links to external learning materials, e.g. books, articles on the topic
  • Courses include transcription
  • Mini tests to be solved while listening to the course as a quick verification of the acquired knowledge
  • The ability to take notes on a particular part of the video

What don’t we like about it?

  • The courses are quite expensive

Top 10 benefits of self-study apps – our pick

Based on our weighing of the pros and cons of various learning apps, we’ve compiled a list of the top 10 qualities a good self-study app should have. 

  1. It is easy to use anywhere, anytime
  2. Relatively short time required to complete the lesson/task and acquire new knowledge (important in a world of limited time for self development and learning)
  3. The ability to monitor progress toward goals to support building a habit of regular learning
  4. Interactions with the application
  5. Gamification elements to support regular learning
  6. Easy and useful, yet modern and eye-catching design
  7. A variety of tasks available. For language applications: developing the whole range of language skills
  8. The ability to interact with other app users
  9. Availability of all difficulty/advanced levels
  10. A wide range of functions available is in the free version, allowing you to develop your skills freely and comprehensively 

There are many self-study apps on the market. We observe how important the element of gamification is and how many opportunities it provides to both app developers and users alike.

If gamification can improve employee engagement in training practices to over 60%, how would it positively change the world of self-learning on the go?

14.06.2022

Eliza Ignasiak

In Kreatik she manages digital projects, supports teams in their implementation and takes care of relations with partners.
Engineer by education, Project Manager by passion. She gained her experience carrying out marketing projects and engaging in social initiatives. She focuses on building relationships with partners and team, and her daily work is characterized by discipline, responsibility and individual approach. She loves dance, photography and travelling.

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