YogiPlay, a Menlo Park-based company from husband-and-wife team Cedric and Michal Selling, is attempting to tackle the critical problem of surfacing appropriate, trusted, and carefully vetted educational apps for children. The company recently raised $1 million in VC funding from DN Capital and Richmond Park Partners, in order to develop a system for rating apps for kids, specifically targeting the ages 2 through 8. Today, YogiPlay is announcing the results of those efforts with YogiMeter, its new app rating system designed to help parents find learning apps for children that have been vetted by a team of educational experts.
The Sellins are both Stanford-trained engineers, with Cedric hailing from Aruba Wireless and Michal an early Google employee. But they’re also parents who grew frustrated with how difficult it was to find quality learning apps for children. Cedric says they were inspired to start the company after watching their two-year old daughter interacting with mobile apps, and realized what powerful learning tools they could be.
In June, the company hired Dr. Jim Gray, who previously served as the Director of Learning at LeapFrog, where he was in charge of all curricula for the last seven or so years. At YogiPlay, he led the development of the YogiMeter system, which has been designed to assess the engagement levels and educational qualities of mobile apps.
“It’s using the same principles I’ve been using all along from my knowledge of child development and interactive media,” he says of YogiMeter. “I’ve structured in a way with some very specific ways to look at how and why kids would be engaged, and if they’re engaged, how and why they might learn.” He also vetted this rubric with other colleagues not associated with YogiPlay to get their feedback and input.
While there are a few startups working to rank and review mobile apps, like KinderTown, for instance (which also vets apps with educators), Dr. Gray says that he believes the YogiMeter system uses a more developmental approach with techniques common to those familiar in child development and education. “The others are not as rigorous, research-based, structured and consistent,” he says describing YogiMeter’s competition.
The system he developed ranks and analyzes apps in two main areas – engagement and educational quality. For determining an app’s engagement, it looks at things like user interactions, user experience, intrinsically motivated engagement, extrinsically motivated engagement and socially motivated engagement. And to analyze the app’s ability to teach, it looks at whether the app will actually engage the child in learning, as it proposes to do, and whether that learning is deep, authentic, personalized, differentiated, and whether or not parents can track the child’s progress throughout. On that last front, it should be noted that YogiPlay also offers mobile developers an SDK which allows them to integrate parental communication tools within their iOS or Android app. Less than twenty developers on iOS and Android are now using this SDK in their apps today.
The YogiMeter rankings will soon be featured visually in the company’s online parent-facing app discovery center and personalized dashboard as well as within its standalone mobile apps, all of which are undergoing massive redesigns right now. (Hence, no screenshots are appropriate here). YogiPlay’s mobile app is available on Android currently, but has been held up in Apple’s approval queue for around three months. However, since the apps are HTML5-based, it seems that even if it was rejected from iOS, the company could easily make it accessible on mobile devices.
To date, YogiPlay has rated over 600 apps with YogiMeter, and is adding new apps to the system daily. The company has also seen some 45,000 parents register on the site, providing their email and their child’s age and other details. Although parents can’t see the YogiMeter rating just yet on YogiPlay.com, all the apps have now been vetted through the system.