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New Ratings System Assesses Educational Apps, Websites, and Video Games

To help parents and educators contend with a profusion of digital media marketed as educational, nonprofit Common Sense Media has begun a new ratings initiative to evaluate the learning potential of websites, video games, and mobile apps.

As part of the initiative, reviewers will analyze a variety of media, including both conventional entertainment products and those designed for learning, in search of core academic content like reading, math, and science, as well as what the company refers to as "deeper learning and social skills," such as critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration. The new ratings range from "Not Meant for Learning" to "Best for Learning."

Reviewers will also assess how engaging each product is and how it is designed to support learning. They will also offer suggestions on how users can get the most out of a given product.

The ratings and reviews can be found on Common Sense Media's website and via its mobile app, appearing alongside existing ratings for age appropriateness and quality.

"As the digital world explodes, parents need help sorting the truly educational content from the content that's slapped with an 'educational' label by marketers," said company CEO and founder James Steyer in a statement.

The ratings system was borne out of a 2011 poll conducted by the nonprofit that revealed many parents are both cognizant of digital media's potential benefits for learning and skeptical of products' educational claims. According to the company, the ratings system was developed based on comprehensive research, including interviews with academic experts, a literature review of key 21st-century learning skills, and research with national samples of parents and teachers.

Currently, new ratings are available for more than 150 mobile apps, games, and websites, with more than 800 additional ratings expected by the end of 2012. Editors will also curate special recommendation lists by age, subject, or skill.

About the Author

Stephen Noonoo is an education technology journalist based in Los Angeles. He is on Twitter @stephenoonoo.