Integrating Apps into Education

by Steven Sturman, Charles Syms and Caitlin Beck - August 2018

The Benefits of Using Apps in Education

Teaching with Apps Logo

Mobile Apps put a wealth of information and resources at your fingertips.  They have the potential to be very useful in both Social Work education and practice.  Integrating Apps into education can offer many benefits to students:

  • it can increase their digital literacy;
  • it can help encourage life-long learning;
  • it can bring real world experiences into the classroom; and
  • it can expose students to the tools they could use in practice.

By integrating apps into student education, you are providing students with a safe environment to experience mobile technology while they are learning.  They can experiment with what technology will and won’t work for them, and they can start to determine how the technology will fit in their professional development.  For many students this may be the first opportunity they have to use apps in a professional setting.  So this exposure will help inform them about the availability of apps for use in practice, and it will provide them some understanding about how they can continue to seek out digital resources throughout their professional careers.

Apps also offer the potential to bring real world experiences into the learning environment.  Students can use apps to connect with certain populations and become familiar with them.  Students can also try out apps that help and support various populations as they work through crises.  Apps can also help form a knowledge base for problems they may encounter while in practice.  Certain GPS and mapping apps may also allow students to explore what resources are available in communities that they could be serving.  Data tracking and form submission apps may also be used to familiarize students with billing and service request systems they may need to use when they enter practice.  These real world examples help students to see the relevance of what they are learning in the classroom.  It also has the potential to introduce them to tools that they might need once they enter practice.

How to Effectively Integrate Apps into Education

In order to effectively integrate mobile apps into education, faculty must have a clear goal and understanding about how the app will support student learning.  Mobile apps can positively impact student learning “when they fulfill a clear instructional goal and when they are used in specific ways that support student learning.” (Zhu et. al, 5).

When considering the adoption of apps for educational purposes faculty must assess:

  • how the app aligns with their learning goals;
  • how the app builds upon skills and guides its users; and
  • how the app provides a bridge from the classroom to the real world.

Students will derive the most benefit when the app promotes active learning or allows them to discover new knowledge.  (Dilberto-Macaluso, and Hughes, 2016).

Before using an app in your class, you must identify the learning goal you want that app to aid in.  In some instances the learning goals and choice of app may be easy to connect, such as using an app that screens for depression in a course dealing with mental health issues.  In other instances, it may take a bit of thought on how to integrate an app into a class. For instance if you are having a class do group assignments, you may suggest they use a specific project management app to help assign and track all of the assignment requirements, so that you can monitor their progress and the participation levels of each group member.  Once you have identified your learning goal it is helpful to inform the students how that app serves that goal, if it is not readily apparent.  Making the connection between the technology and the desired outcome will help increase the student’s motivation in using the app and it will increase the likelihood that they are successful in integrating it into their learning.

When integrating an app into your class, you also want to make sure that it is introduced at the appropriate time so that it will build upon the knowledge and skill that students have already learned in the class.  By scaffolding the integration of the app into your class, you first provide the foundation for understanding the content that is covered in the app, and you help students to expand upon their learning in an active manner through use of the app.  For instance, if you are covering materials on how to counsel clients on financial issues, you would want to first discuss the importance of budgeting and the steps to creating a budget before introducing a finance tracking app.  You could ask students to use that app to create their own budget, so they could then experience that process.  This way the students will have the foundational knowledge behind how the app works, and then be able to see how they could use it when working with clients, to help them better organize their finances.  If the students do not have the foundational knowledge, they may struggle with understanding how the app fits in with what they are learning, and may not recognize how it can be useful to them in their professional practice.

When integrating an app into your class it is helpful to be explicit about how that app connects to the real world.  The more connections you can help the students create between what they are doing in the classroom, and what they will be expected to do in practice, the higher their motivation will be for learning.  When structuring learning activities, you want to emphasize how the material being covered has real world application.  For example if your students are getting ready to be placed in health care agencies, you may want to include an app that allows them to research medication side effects and interactions.  You can integrate how they may need to work with their clients to prevent harmful interactions, and use the app to reference and discuss the side effects the client may be having issues with.

How to Choose the Right App

In addition to pedagogical considerations, faculty must also consider other factors when adopting apps, including:

  • the user friendliness of the app;
  • the accessibility of the app;
  • how well is the app supported;
  • what devices are the app available on; and

Once you have decided upon the goal of integrating apps into your course, you must then find an appropriate app to use.  In many instances there may be multiple apps that may fulfill the learning objectives you are looking to cover in your course, but how do you choose the right one?

In general, you want to choose the app that most closely aligns with your learning objective.  If there are multiple apps that do this you then want to review the apps for user friendliness, this is probably one of the most important considerations, if an app is not easy for the students to use or it is difficult to figure out how it works, their adoption of the app and their experience with it will not be positive.  Related to this, you also want to consider how accessible the app is.  Does it have options for people who may have visual impairments or hearing impairments?

When choosing an app, you also want to give some consideration to which devices the app is available for.  In the US apple iOS and android are pretty evenly split among their adoption rate, however worldwide, android has a larger market share.  (Koesier, 2017).  When you choose your app, you want to make sure that it will work on the devices your students are bringing to class.  If possible make sure there are versions for both iOS and Android devices.  There may also be differences between apps designed to work on phones and tablets. You want to make sure that any features you are requiring the students to use are available on both operating systems and both phones and tablets.

Another consideration for app choice, is how well the app is supported by its developers.  You do not want to choose an app that is no longer being updated or improved upon.  It can often be difficult to determine how well an app is supported, but some helpful things to consider are whether the developer is a well-established company or organization, whether the app has been updated for recent OS updates, and whether there is current contact and help information to support the app.  If the app also has a long history of updates, it is also a good sign that the developer keeps updating the app to keep it current with new features offered by the OS.

Privacy and Ethical Issues

When introducing apps into your teaching, you need to be aware of the privacy and ethical issues that may arise.  When picking an app you will want to review their data retention policies and who the app developer shares information they collect with.  You need to make sure that the policies are compliant with FERPA if student data is collected and stored.  In some instances, HIPPA may also be something that needs to be considered if the apps deal with protected health care information.  As you consider how you will integrate an app into your teaching, it is often a good idea to have a discussion about the ethical and legal implications of using that specific technology with your students.  Considering the ethical and privacy issues around the use of technology is a key digital literacy skill that students need to develop.

If you are encouraging students to use an app in their field work or with clients, you will also want to check out our information on Integrating apps into practice, which covers some of the ethical and privacy concerns that arise when working with clients.

Sample Assignments that Integrate Apps into the learning Environment

Integrating apps into education can be done in a variety of ways.  Students can be assigned apps that provide knowledge about a specific topic, students can be assigned apps that would aid them in various practice settings, or they could be given assignments that would require them to seek out apps that would be appropriate in a specific area of practice and share those apps with their fellow students.

The preceding materials highlight a number of ways that apps could be integrated into a variety of subject areas.  We are in the process of collecting sample assignments that instructors have used in their classes, so that we can share them with the community.  Do you have an assignment or learning module that you use to integrate apps into your class?  We would love to hear about it, and feature it on our site, so that other educators can learn from your experiences.  If you have something you would like to share please contact us at  We have also created a handy set of guidelines for contributing a sample assignment, which will help you think about how you can present your ideas to others.

View sample assignments.

Additional Resources

Our HAPPE team presented a workshop on how to Use apps in Social Work Education at the 5th Annual Social Work Distance Education Conference, San Antonio, Texas, April 10-12, 2019.  Below are the resources that we used for our presentation.

Workshop Description

Is there an App for that? – PowerPoint Presentation

Using Apps in Education Worksheet

Resources for Finding Educational Apps


Diliberto-Macaluso, K., and Hughes, A. (2016). The use of mobile apps to enhance student learning in introduction to psychology. Teach. Psychol. 43(1):48–52.

Koetsier, J (2017, May) Surprise Google Reveals iOS Market Share is 65% to 230% Bigger than we Thought.  Retrieved from

Zhu, E., Kaplan, M., Dershimer, R. C., Bergom, I. (2011). Use of laptops in the classroom: Research and best practices (CRLT Occasional Papers 30). Ann Arbor, MI: Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, University of Michigan.