App for iPad: Learn with Homer

The only comprehensive early literacy program with its efficacy proven in an independent, blind study, conducted by former US Assistant Secretary of Education, Dr. Susan Neumann, and her graduate research team at NYU.

Stephanie Dua, Homer’s CEO and Founder, and I present at the New York Tech Meetup, one month after we launched the Learn with Homer app for iPad. As Stephanie talks, I operate the iPad and provide a bit of comic relief. The presentation provides a basic understanding of the pedagogical approach of Learn with Homer: how the program tackles early literacy through multiple approaches.
The original map interface for Learn with Homer
The original ‘main menu’ for the app was a map that took users to each section of the app. We chose a map because in testing we found that one thing nearly every child understood was the concept of a map. Furthermore, children responded very well to small visual details, particularly things that made them want to imagine themselves in each place within the app. This has since been replaced by an interactive carousel to allow for dynamic featuring of new content.
The current carousel interface for Learn with Homer
After a few months in the market, we chose to pursue a more dynamic menu system. We wanted it to accomplish two main tasks: 1) pull kids into Homer’s world from the moment they open the app, and 2) allow for featuring new content front and center. We tested the carousel rigorously—everything from affinity to iconography of the rides to the speed with which the carousel snaps into place. This is also where I made my one contribution to the app’s codebase: I wrote the equation for the carousel’s path and integrated it with our objective C code.
The Learn to Read progression in Learn with Homer
It was Homer’s Learn to Read vision that most excited me about the app. It is unparalleled in digital media. When I saw the research powering the program and spoke with Stephanie Dua and Peggy Kaye about the approach, I knew that I had to be part of it. The phonics progression is incredibly robust and the connection between lessons, literature, and nonfiction is truly unique. It has been truly exciting to design the experience of how children learn to read.

'Project' => 'As product manager and director of user experience, work with the amazing Learn with Homer team to create an app for iPad that teaches literacy with a holistic approach: teaching children the mechanics of reading while exposing them to literature and teaching general knowledge and academic vocabulary—all of which are key indicators of literacy.',

'Challenges' => 'Create a unified experience for experiencing lessons in the Learn with Homer app, while balancing technical needs and the interests of different user types (children who are just learning to read, older children who get a lot out of the nonfiction, but less from phonics, children who mostly want to consume a library of stories and songs, etc).',

'Solutions' => 'The original pedagogical vision of Learn with Homer was to create a fully integrated learning path, in which children learn mechanics of reading, read stories, and learn nonfiction all in a single flow. In our user research, however, we found that our stories, songs, and Discover the World lessons grabbed the interest of a much wider age range, including children who had already mastered the basics of learning to read. As such we decided to decouple our nonfiction from the learn-to-read progression. We kept literature as part of both the Discover the World and Learn to Read progressions, but also offered it in a unique area. Later, as we found that songs were particularly highly valued, we gave them their own section of the app. In the 9 months we spent developing Learn with Homer and the year since it launched on the App Store, we consistently relied on data to drive our decisions. This meant rigorous usability testing with children ages 2–6 and in-app analytics that told us what is effective in our app.'

'User Flow Diagram' => ' User Flow diagram from Homer's Carousel: My full user flow diagrams reveal more than I should post publicly, but this is a diagram of the possible child user flows (as of 8/31/2014) from Homer’s carousel. I use diagrams like this one in my design process to describe my ideal user flow, identify inefficiencies in current flows, and to identify whether any connections are missing between screens or states. I especially like user flow diagrams for identifying the difference between one user type and another, or between the first use of a product and return use. For example, if we determined tomorrow that our primary goal is to get children to look at their ‘Create Board’ (a virtual pin board with their drawings and recordings), I would look for ways to connect that from other screens, since it is currently only accessible from Homer’s Clubhouse.',

'Wireframes' => ' Sample Wireframes: Likewise, my full set of wireframes reveal a bit too much about features that are still in development. However, these are a few samples of wireframes created at different stages of the product: the original onboarding flow, the content management screens where parents can delete lessons to make space on their device, a few of the activities from the Discover and Learn to Read sections of the app, and purchase popups from the app's launch in August 2013.',

'Web-based Payment Wireframes' => ' Wireframes from Website Overhaul: Learn with Homer launched a webapp in November 2014, and at the same time had to do an overhaul of its website and web-based payment flows to accommodate the new product alongside the existing one. At the time, I created a set of user flows and wireframes to work out the logic of how each use case is handled. For more details about my work with the Learn with Homer website, see my page about responsive styles on learnwithhomer.com.',

'Homer’s Pigeon Post' => ' Story Board and Dev-Ready Templates: This document contains my storyboard sketches and the dev-ready templates that I delivered to our iOS developer after I mapped the user flow onto postcard creation in Homer’s Pigeon Post Office. For full details, check out my page about creating the user flow for postcard creation in Homer's Pigeon Post. ',

'Evidence of Learn with Homer’s Efficacy' => ' Blind Study from NYU School of Education: An independent, blind study conducted by Susan Neuman, the former US Assistant Secretary of Education and New York University Professor of Early Childhood and Literacy Education, gave 4- and 5-year-olds access to Learn with Homer for 15 minutes per day, five days per week, for just 6 weeks during the summer of 2014. In that time, the test group progressed through less than a third of Homer’s phonics curriculum, but showed statistically significant gains in phonological awareness, print knowledge, and letter sounds in the Test of Preschool Early Literacy (TOPEL). In particular, they showed a 74% increase in phonological awareness, the biggest indicator of later reading success. Meanwhile, the control group (students who did not use Learn with Homer) showed a decline in phonological awareness over the 6-week study. In a USA Today article about the study, Professor Neuman concluded, “I’m now convinced that there are certain skills that can be taught—and taught more efficiently—through technology.”',

'Awards for Learn with Homer' => ' 2014 Appy Award for Best Educational Game, Mom’s Choice Gold Award, Parent’s Choice Silver Award, Teacher’s Choice Award for the Family, Teacher’s Choice Award for the Classroom, Mobile Future’s Mobiley Award, 2014 Children’s App of the Year and 2014 Children’s Media of the Year from Creative Child Magazine,, Best Early Learner App in the Children’s eBook Awards, Dr. Toy Award, Editor’s Choice from Common Sense Media, and Cool Mom Tech Pick of the Year. Over a dozen top banner features on the App Store for iPad (Education, Kids, Kids 5 & Under, Books). Featured on The Today Show, USA Today, Morning Joe, The New York Times, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, Forbes, The Huffington Post, and more.',       );