Disney just unveiled its digital learning initiative Imagicademy, which will launch on December 11.
The company first mentioned Imagicademy last month, but without any real details. As outlined at a press event today in New York, it’s a suite of mobile learning apps for kids, along with an app where parents can follow along, give their kids a virtual high five, and see recommended physical activities that complement that in-app lessons.
Eventually, Disney plans to release printed material and smart toys, too.
“As you can see, it’s so much more than a set of digital apps — it’s about a brand,” said Andrew Sugarman, executive vice president of Disney Publishing Worldwide,. “It’s a comprehensive suite of connected experiences, all of which have been created with quality, attention to detail, and, yes, magic.”
More specifically, Bob Chapek, president of Disney Consumer Products, said that when the company interviewed parents about existing learning apps, they said that the landscape is cluttered, with inconsistent quality. And even if they find something that they and their kids like, it tends to be a one-off experience.
With Imagicademy, on the other hand, there are plans for a suite of 30 similarly branded apps covering math, creative arts, science, language arts, and social skills. The first app to launch will be Mickey’s Magical Math World on iPad, as well as the companion app for parents.
Jeff Sellinger, senior vice president of Disney Learning, gave quick demos of the math app, as well as Mickey’s Magical World of Arts. Both of them actually include five different games — for example, there’s a game focused on helping kids learn about three-dimensional shapes by assembling rockets.
These games were built in consultation with a number of education experts. Doug Clemenets, an education professor at the University of Denver, took the stage and talked about the importance of early math learning, and about how much kids can learn if they’re offered “a playful approach.”
For that reason, Sellinger told me in a follow-up interview that Disney could only draw in a limited way on its previous experience in mobile games.
“Curriculum is not an easy thing to do it really well, particularly when you’re driving towards imagination and creativity,” he said. “So we were able to draw on some of it, but at some point you have to dive into the fire.”
As for the smart toy, it might look like a regular Mickey Mouse plush, but it will supposedly be able to hold basic conversations with kids and even respond to their activity within the apps. There was no live demo for the toy, and it’s not supposed to launch until the back-to-school season in 2015, but Sellinger said that it’s “much further along than you would think, given the timeframe.” (The physical products will be created in partnership with companies including KIDdesigns, Wonder Forge, and Mercury Active.)
He also gave me more specifics about the business model. The apps will be free at first and offer a “pretty deep” experience before you’re asked to pay — $4.99 for each game inside the app, or $19.99 for all five.
If fragmentation is a problem, why not have a single mega-app that bundles all these experiences together? Sellinger said it would just be “too big.”
The target age group for these initial apps is three to five. Over time, there will be apps for six- to eight-year-olds, and they might start incorporating other Disney characters and brands, like Star Wars and Marvel.
Finally, Sellinger noted that Imagicademy could circumvent the all-too-common situation of parents asking their kids, “What did you learn in school today?” and getting a shrug in response — because those parents can now open their companion app and see for themselves.
Update: Here’s a demo video of Mickey’s Magical Math World.