08/29/2011 09:51 pm ET

Teachers: An Untapped App-Development Resource

Here's a simple idea.

If you are going to spend time, money and energy designing and developing a mobile app for children on iOS or Android, and then market it as educational and promote it to parents and teachers as a tool to support their child's learning and development the first thing you'd do is engage a educational professional to help with that, wouldn't you?

You'd think so, but in my work engaging with a large number of app developers who are designing and building apps for children's learning and development, there is a notable absence of educational professionals and people who really understand the development of children and importance of pedagogy. And, people who really understand children's learning and development within a new media context are rare. With the explosion of educational apps, you'd think there would be a raft of ex-teachers and child development psychologists being invited into the app development industry. But, there isn't.

This is both a problem, and an opportunity.

It is a problem because it means we currently have learning and educational tools being developed for mobile devices in isolation from the systems they intend to be used in and without the input from people who understand what children need to learn, how they learn it and have experience planning, designing and creating learning tools for children. We all know the impact a great teacher can have on our lives. Imagine if the ideas and enthusiasm of those great teachers were also captured in the apps our children engage with both inside and outside of school.

Sure, mobile devices in schools are not yet ubiquitous by any means, but organisations like the New Media Consortium are indicating through their Horizon Report that it is highly likely that they will be. So, the next Horizon is the apps on those devices and while there are some great ones out there -- we still have a long way to go.

Yes, the U.S. Department of Education has invested in the development of apps in education through the 2010 Ready to Learn Grants, but that does not guarantee the companies themselves will seek the advice and input of the best and brightest in the educational world. They need to recognize that good graphics, design and programming is not enough.

This is where the opportunity kicks in. Technology companies know the importance of engaging with educators, look at Apple's Distinguished Educator program and Google's own model. Consider the hardware producers of interactive whiteboards and projectors and software developers who pay teachers to be part-adviser/part-marketer for their products. There is a roll out there for educators in app development companies. There is a role for people who understand and can apply Gange's Conditions of Learning to 21st century learning technologies. There is a role for people who have the expertise in how children learn and develop. This will help take us beyond apps that simply mirror flash cards and textbooks. Look into the twitter-sphere, there are enough early adopters in the education field to tap in to.

So, I look forward to seeing the job descriptions being written by app development companies as they identify that engaging teachers from the concept phase in the development of new apps will be how they create a point of difference. Job descriptions that come because app developers recognize that it is great products that rise to the surface in educational markets. To create apps that really support 21st century learning, they need to tap into the skills and knowledge of those who know learning and education best.