LeapFrog’s twenty-year history is a classic study of the speed of change in the tech industry. LeapFrog, committed to kids’ learning, has built a number of proprietary hardware platforms that have come and gone. They’ve built LeapFrog readers, tablets (LeapPad), TVs (LeapTV) and handhelds (Leapster Explorer), all on their way to hardware heaven. But, in the end every kid needs to learn phonics and reading, math and science. And LeapFrog has decades of content to make that happen.
LeapFrog is moving its years of educational content into the cloud. Earlier this month, the company announced it was creating LeapFrog Academy, a subscription of early learning programming targeting ages 3-6. A subscription costs $7.99/month for an account that allows up to five distinct user profiles (all of which could be used on different devices at once). It features the best of LeapFrog’s games, puzzles, videos, and activities to teach basic math, reading, science, music, art and even life skills across a variety of learning adventures.
Delivery mechanisms change, but content remains constant. Or does it? I give LeapFrog an “A” for effort, moving to the cloud and being device independent. But, somehow the experience feels a bit tired, especially to today’s pre-schooler used to poking around YouTube at lightening pace.
Parents have historically shied away from monthly services for their kids. Netflix and Kindle have successful subscription businesses mainly because their content targets the whole family. Parents are lured by lushness of free kids’ content in the app stores, and are particularly non-discriminating when it comes to good vs. free. Parents also want to know that a subscription will be used, not just sporadically. To its credit, the Academy offers a one-month free trial before the $7.99 monthly fee kicks in.
Quantity is the operative word here. LeapFrog Academy’s library is vast. There are over 1,000 learning activities, discreet tasks covering specific skills, that kids can complete in sequence in an 'adventure' format. The adventures are sequenced according to LeapFrog education experts, some based on a single skill, increasing in difficulty, and some on an array of skills within a specific category. The adventure selects personalized pathways for each child based on age and performance. The program will choose new adventures for players as they finish old ones, but parents also have the option to order their child’s path through each skills journey.
Kids can access all their account data on any connected device and for car trips and travel they can download up to 20 favorite activities that work offline — that’s good news. The LeapFrog currency for completing activities is marbles. Marble booty can be used to buy new accessories and modifications for avatars. How much of a reward system there is in dressing an avatar remains to be seen.
Tying together 20 years of software development in a creative, novel way is hard. Mapping it to kids’ personalized skills is even harder. LeapFrog’s valiant effort to fold its content into an adventure-based education system wins points, but somehow doesn’t entirely gel. That said, LeapFrog is still one of the most trusted names in early childhood learning. It might not have the magic, sizzle or splash of some, but solid educational theory is behind each of its apps. You could do far worse than subscribe to this for your pre-schoolers, especially if basic skill sets are needed.