Making The Grade: Best Buys In Educational Software For Kids

Plus: Exceptional Apps and Websites

Developers of educational software embrace mobile applications and online subscriptions instead of conventional formats. As a result, you no longer can count on the availability of CD-ROM, DVD-ROM and downloadable programs beyond 2013.

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The world of educational software for home-computer use has been turned upside down. Software that’s created for the conventional optical-disc (CD-ROM or DVD-ROM) and downloadable formats is on the way out as mobile devices and the programs that are designed for them increasingly take over. Since 2009, educational-software developers shifted existing products to mobile-application formats or created new apps that replace discontinued conventional software. In other words, educational software that’s produced for disc and download (what we refer to as conventional software) in 2013 is going, going . . . and just about gone.

We believe that all educational software that’s in disc format might be discontinued by as early as 2014 and that it’s likely that such products no longer will be available in stores or even online within 3 years. We came to this conclusion based on interviews that we conducted with software developers and independent industry experts as well as our analysis of the products that are available today compared with those of 4 years ago.

In the years ahead, educational software will exist only as apps for mobile devices or as free or subscription-based websites for home computers. For now, good educational software still exists on disc and as a download, which is why we have Best Buy selections—although fewer choices than we had 4 years ago. It’s unclear, however, how long that those selections and other software titles will remain compatible with new home computers. We believe that you should avoid buying any educational-software disc or download that you expect to use for more than 2 years.

SLIPPING DISCS. The disc and download market for educational software is so small in 2013 that market-research companies no longer track it. No industry statistics exist that indicate by how much the sale of conventional educational software has dropped since 2009. We found just 16 educational-software programs from seven companies that we confirmed will remain in production through 2013. Furthermore, only half of the 12 Best Buys that we recommended 4 years ago remain in production.

Venerable educational-software developers, such as Kaplan, Microsoft, Scholastic and The Learning Company no longer make software that’s available in disc or download formats. For instance, The Learning Company had at least 400 disc-based titles when it was purchased by Mattel in 1999 for $3.8 billion. In 2013, The Learning Company, which now is owned by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, has fewer than 20 titles, as it shifts its emphasis to creating apps and Web-based programs that appeal to the growing market of parents and children who are comfortable using mobile devices, says Wendy Bronfin of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Precisely when conventional educational software will cease to exist is unclear. About 60 programs can be purchased via Internet retailers and even in some brick-and-mortar stores, but software developers haven’t updated many of those programs for at least a year, because they want to get rid of the remaining inventory, experts say. 

It’s pretty safe to say educational CD-ROMs are nearly gone, and traditional downloads are right behind, says Robbie Kellman Baxter, who is a software-industry market-research analyst.

INSTANT ACCESS. The rapid evaporation of conventional educational software is happening, because better technologies exist for delivering educational content, experts tell Consumers Digest. Faster Internet connection speeds, mobile apps and changes to home computers make discs and even downloads obsolete, experts say.

In 2007, only 65 percent of homes that had a computer had access to high-speed Internet connections, according to Leichtman Research Group. In 2013, roughly 94 percent of U.S. homes have access to high-speed Internet, according to Federal Communications Commission’s Broadband Progress Report. As a result, more children can use Web-based educational programs.

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