How am I supposed to know if an app is evidence-based?

Aha! This is a fun one. The simple answer is that the iPad has been around for less than a decade (shocking, huh?), and there is very little research on apps in our field (the little we do have is on AAC and aphasia). Nooooo! So you see where this is going: it’s not easy. The best you can do is perhaps, 1) know the research on the effective ingredients of speech–language treatment in the first place, and see if you can identify those within the apps, and 2) know the research on multimedia learning (not from our field; see article for overview) and use that to also guide your thinking. Then, of course, EBP also requires considering clinical practice and client data as well…

Challenging as this is, Heyman (2018) has started to pick at the question with a survey and interview study of hundreds of SLPs, asking how SLPs are selecting apps for therapy. The results:

How do SLPs know which apps to consider?

They’re mostly relying on word of mouth and social networks.

Then how do SLPs make purchase decisions?

“The main finding reported was that participants used apps because they were engaging and motivating to children…”

The top two features SLPs reported as important were:

  1. different developmental/difficulty levels and

  2. child-friendly theme

(See article for a ranking of 25 other features SLPs prioritize!)

Finally, “Participants emphasized that apps were a tool and used them in the same was as any other tool or toy...”

What do we think of this?

Well, it seems that SLPs’ biggest concern is just getting kids excited about the therapy process. And that makes sense. But, ideally, we need to find a way to start to identify which apps will actually give us the features and flexibility to make good progress on speech–language goals. Heyman provides a checklist of features that could be considered, including things like: Can targets be repeated? Can items be skipped? How much control do you have over the screen (e.g. ability to remove elements)? … But we need a lot more research in this area to know which of these features matter, and when.

In the meantime, a little more digging by SLPs could certainly help! Heyman states, “Interestingly, only 22% of respondents looked at the developer sites in order to obtain information about apps; yet, information regarding the background and research evidence are often provided on the developer site.”

 

Heyman, N. (2018) Identifying features of apps to support using evidence-based language intervention with children. Assistive Technology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1080/10400435.2018.1553078.