What It Takes to Create Digital Learning Products for Kids

At a discussion at the Launch Kids conference at Digital Book World 2016, Ashley Anderson Zantop of Capstone and CJ Kettler of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt talked about what it takes to create innovative digital learning products for kids. While both speakers agreed that kids prefer physical books over ebooks, they argued that kids actually prefer digital products when they elevate their learning experiences.

“What’s interesting and different for us [at Capstone] is we build our own platforms and go beyond turning a physical book into its digital replica,” said Zantop. “We try to give a meaningful experience online and see a huge demand for it. To provide value, we [product developers] have to curate well, provide scaffolding, and customize experiences similarly to Sourcebooks’s Put Me In The Story.”

To develop great digital learning products, Zantop and Kettler emphasized the importance of understanding how kids learn in the digital age.

“Kids in kindergarten have never been alive when a smart tablet did not exist,” Zantop noted. “What these kids think and feel about media is fundamentally different than how adults think about it. They have different expectations of technology and how reading should intersect with other forms of media.”

On top of that, both panelists urged product developers to include kids in their usability tests.

“User experience is at the center of every digital product and, if you’re not testing it with kids, you’re not learning the right stuff,” Kettler explained. “User experience and usability are core to any successful product. Otherwise, it stutters and fails.”

Product developers should also have a thorough understanding of who their target audience is.

“Each market deserves its own customized content,” Kettler continued. “When we perform research with parents, we find that they’re not looking for the same products as educators. They’re looking for supplementary products that encourage playful learning.”

“While content tends to cross between audiences seamlessly,” added Zantop, “the supports you put around it is different. We need to make active decisions on who we’re marketing and selling to.”

The panelists also discussed subscription models, in-app purchases, and ad sales as different ways to monetize products. “We think subscription models are becoming more important as millennials are using services like Netflix and Spotify,” said Kettler. “We’re looking at a diversified revenue stream.”

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