Digital Apps For Early Learning: A Glimpse At Kumon Publishing

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Screenshot from a Kumon Publishing app: Pittsun Tsun:  The Sounds of a Rainy Day

Screenshot from a Kumon Publishing app: Pittsun Tsun: The Sounds of a Rainy Day

Can digital tablets help children learn skills like penmanship? Can interactive apps foster appreciation for the sounds of language? Kumon Publishing North America is exploring these questions.

The company that’s known for its educational learning centers has introduced two digital apps for kids. One, titled Uppercase ABC’s: Learn To Trace Letters, is a digital workbook that teaches children to write the alphabet. Kids use a stylus on a tablet to practice forming letters. The other app, titled Pittsun-Tsun: The Sounds of a Rainy Day, lets young children interactively experience early reading skills and onomatopoeia.

Balancing Digital and Traditional Learning

Integrating digital tools into early learning is a delicate balance for educators. As Kumon Publishing explores new ways to use tablets, the company remains mindful of the need for traditional paper-based activities. Still, it can’t ignore children’s desire to engage with digital tools. “We are entering an age where devices such as a tablet and stylus can replicate the [pencil-and-paper] learning experience—not perfectly, of course,” said Brian Klingborg, Senior Vice President, Kumon Publishing North America.

Many educators, including those at Kumon, believe children still need pencils and paper to master learning early learning skills. The popularity of digital tablets among children, however, is so significant that publishing companies can’t ignore the medium.

Children use a stylus to practice writing with "Uppercase ABC’s: Learn To Trace Letters"

Children use a stylus to practice writing with “Uppercase ABC’s: Learn To Trace Letters”

With a stylus, however, a tablet can function like interactive workbooks. What’s more, an app that responds to a stylus can do even more than a paper workbook.  “With digital products, you can add lots of bells and whistles, rewards, sound, etc.” said Klingborg, “We believe some level of this is good and holds the child’s attention, but too much distracts from the actual learning process.”

While Kumon Publishing plans to produce more digital workbooks that include extensive interactivity including animation, rewards, and metrics, Klingborg reports that many library and ebook distributors still seek ebooks with minimal enhancements. To meet this need, the company also plans to produce fictional digital storybooks without any enhancements other than audio.

Challenges With Marketing and Multi-Platform Formats

Managing the range of platforms—apps, ebooks, EPUB, MOBI and others—in the digital book marketplace today is a challenge for Kumon Publishing.  “I hope in the future publishers and retailers can agree on an open platform for creating ebooks to be sold across all devices,” said Klingborg.

Another challenge is marketing. “With regard to digital products, the biggest challenge is discoverability and marketing your product in a crowded market,” said Klingborg. Kumon Publishing markets its apps through blogs, social media, and ads in their printed books. They also seek reviews from users and bloggers.

Making Room for Digital And Traditional Publications

For Kumon Publishing, printed books are still primary to their mission of educating children, but digital books and workbooks have a place in their overall strategy.  “A lot of discussion has been on whether to focus on apps or ebooks. And if ebooks, enhanced, or not enhanced,” said Klingborg. No clear focus has emerged in the field of early learning, so Kumon Publishing is exploring a range of formats. Klingborg believes that for the foreseeable future, print books, digital books and enhanced apps will all play a role the children’s educational market.

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