These programs can be awesome but are often incredibly expensive and far too easily abused. When people talk about being nervous of educational technology they are talking about these programs. When people talk about educational tech as the “savior” of education they are talking mostly about these programs.
These are programs focusing on reading or math that students can go through at their own pace. Often they are created to look like video games. Students have to master skills at each level before they can move to the next level.
At their best, these programs give struggling students extra exposures to already taught material and give higher students previews of the next few concepts and ideas. At their worst, they become a way to decrease teaching and interaction in the classroom and a way to push lower students off into the corner in the name of differentiation.
While these programs can help struggling students, parents need to ask lots of clarifying questions about how schools use the programs. How much of the school day is a kid learning from a video game/program and how much of the day are they learning from their friends and teachers?
School is about the socio-emotional learning and the skills gained from hearing and working with peers as much as it is about learning foundational skills.
Moreover, these programs are pricey. The companies that make them are almost always in it for the bottom dollar so beware of the claims they make and do research before buying one!
Here are a few programs that I have used and liked:
Learning Upgrade: This program has a Reading Upgrade that has 50 levels moving from ABCs to CVC words to multisyllable words. It also has a Comprehension Upgrade working on reading comprehension skills. It also has a Math Upgrade at each grade level. You can assign struggling students a lower grade level to reteach skills from previous years. The graphics, music, and videos are great and kids love it.