The 10 Best Learning Apps of 2020

These cross-platform apps are perfect for turning your device into an academy

The Ultimate Guide to Online Learning at Home
The Ultimate Guide to Online Learning at Home

It’s never too late to broaden your knowledge, and in the digital age, information has never been more accessible. Here are 10 of the best mobile and web learning apps to help you to pursue your quest for understanding, wherever that may take you.

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Duolingo: Best Tool for Learning Another Language on the Go

Duolingo on Android
What We Like
  • Exercises include multiple choice, writing, and listening questions.

  • A fun social media element gets you and your friends to challenge each other to learn.

What We Don't Like
  • Lessons focus more on instilling rote phrases than explicitly teaching concepts like grammar.

  • It's not enough to develop true fluency by itself. 

Not only does Duolingo stand out among language learning apps, but among education apps overall. Duolingo boasts dozens of languages to choose from, including a couple fictional ones just for fun. Each language offers a mostly linear path divided into topics of conversation, with each topic presenting users with short exercises to familiarize them with the material through spoken and written formats.

The app also encourages you to make a habit of practicing with both a reward system and social component. Users receive between 1 and 5 “lingots” of app currency for each day in which they meet their set threshold, and may spend it in the store on power-ups and fun accessories. Concurrently, the in-app social network encourages you to invite your friends to the app and compare scores to see who studies the hardest.

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TED: Best for Watching Short Talks About Innovative New Ideas

TED on Android
What We Like
  • Talks are short and span a variety of topics.

  • The app offers versatility in viewing experience such as by allowing downloads or listening from a locked screen.

What We Don't Like
  • Topics aren't treated in-depth.

  • It doesn't feature a full-fledged subscription system for specific topic categories. 

Unlike most educational apps which strive to teach the fundamentals of well-trodden existing knowledge, TED exposes its audience to an enormous spectrum of innovative ideas that seek to reassess the world we live in. Each TED talk is a spoken presentation from leaders in hundreds of fields; everything from hard science to art and philosophy. Each talk, no matter the subject matter, is given at an accessible comprehension level.

While you can find talks on their website or YouTube channel, TED rewards you for making its app your go-to with some very convenient features, including downloading videos for offline viewing and locking your device without interrupting playback.

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Codeacademy: Best for an In-Depth Programming Language Learning Experience

Lesson screen on Codeacademy's browser web app
What We Like
  • "Paths" bundle courses together instead of leaving you to figure it out. 

  • Every lesson has an interactive console for trying out code.

What We Don't Like
  • They really push the paid tier, with no mobile app access and a very limited course set for the free tier.

If you’ve ever been interested in any aspect of computers, Codeacademy is the place to satisfy your curiosity.

On Codeacademy, targeted lessons let you pick up skills one concept at a time. Code editors and interactive consoles are built right into the app, so you never need to leave it or download any software. Courses are curated based on the kind of projects you want to tackle, and you don’t need to know anything about programming languages going in. Simply pick the direction you find most interesting, and Codeacademy will present groups of courses for you to take.

Whether in a series of courses or a standalone course, each lesson features a handful of steps, each with a short explanation of the concept to learn and a coding exercise. At the end of the lesson is a short quiz on all the steps from the lesson, then it's on to the next.

Users can take Codeacademy courses on its web app, but its iOS and Android apps are only available to premium subscribers.  

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Memrise: Best App for Learning Languages Through Memory Devices

Lesson screen on the Memrise mobile app
What We Like
  • The encouragement to use mnemonic devices helps give you a handle on tricky languages.

  • The ability to share and incorporate other users' memory devices provides a social media feel.

What We Don't Like
  • Like Duolingo, there isn't a huge emphasis on directly teaching grammar and instead favors words and phrases.

  • You probably won't become fluent just from Memrise alone. 

If you thought memes couldn’t teach you anything, think again. With Memrise, students can harness the collective power of the app’s users by making use of meme-like mnemonic devices designed to stick with you.

When learning new words or phrases, you're encouraged to write a short association to use as a memory device. If you can’t think of one, though, you can choose from those submitted by fellow users. By thinking about mnemonics, users build confidence and vocabulary in new languages with associations that are natural to them. Aside from this, the app’s regimen yields a fairly standard gradual increase in vocabulary and concepts.

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Khan Academy: Best Personal Tutor-Style Learning App

Khan Academy on Android
What We Like
  • The personal tutor style and reliance on drawn visual aids is a unique twist on online lectures.

  • A strong personal philosophy from the founder means it will always be free.

What We Don't Like
  • Topics are limited and more geared toward math and science fields. 

  • All the courses are taught by the same guy, so if you don't like his style, there's not much you can do. 

Khan Academy is another app offering courses on a broad range of subjects, but it does so in a more personal one-on-one style rather than a recorded lecture.

The app places a strong emphasis on diagrams and visual aids, relying on a kind of digital drawing board to accommodate other learning styles. While favors math- and science-heavy topics, it also features humanities courses such as history and art.

Whether on its mobile iOS or Android apps, online via YouTube, or its dedicated web app, Khan Academy is completely free, a core tenet of founder Salman Khan’s philosophy.

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edX: Best App For Taking Top US University Courses Online

edX on Android
What We Like
  • edX lets users take real courses from top U.S. universities online for free.

  • Technical courses like programming include online interactive tools like code consoles for labs.

What We Don't Like
  • Course credit often isn't free and costs a lot. 

  • If you don't start a course live, you don't get the same experience, such as easy access to lecturers or forum boards. 

When it comes to the old adage that you get what you pay for, edX is the exception to the rule. edX provides free access to real university courses, taught by real professors, at some of the most prestigious schools in the U.S. via video. Courses are free, but the app extends the option for users to pay for certification which can count as college credit.

Available subjects run the gamut, with extensive offerings in science and technology subject areas. Classes feature video lectures followed by short quizzes and, for some subjects such as programming, interactive online labs.

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Tinycards: Best Digital Flashcard Designing and Sharing App

Tinycards on Android
What We Like
  • Tinycards powers up old-school flashcards with digital touches like multiple choice answers. 

  • Users are encouraged to make their own decks and share them. 

What We Don't Like
  • Because of the simple flashcard format, it's probably not enough to teach you anything by itself. 

  • Aside from a few Duolingo decks, most flashcards are left up to users, so variety and accuracy vary. 

Tinycards, a new project from the team behind Duolingo, puts a digital spin on the classic flashcard approach, with impressive results. Offering an app store-like menu of flashcard decks to choose from, Tinycards lets users pick the perfect deck to fit their studies from those submitted by fellow students.

Topics range from languages to periodic table elements to anything in between. As decks are user-submitted, some are also more fun, like trivia for your favorite books and movies. Tinycards also deliberately makes it easy to create your own flashcards for your needs. Beyond reproducing pure analog flashcard functionality, the app quizzes you on your flashcards in multiple choice and keyboard input format, neither of which let you peak until you make your guess.

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Brilliant: Best Logic Puzzle Solving App

Brilliant on Android
What We Like
  • The app's focus on learning via puzzle solving is a novel way to learn and offers options to those who learn differently.

  • The learning style options at setup let you set your pace and style.

What We Don't Like
  • There isn't always a lot of instruction before each question, so learners can sometimes feel under-prepared. 

  • As with a lot of these apps, this one is heavy on math and science, and light on everything else. 

If you’re the kind of student that learns best through firsthand practice, Brilliant is exactly what you’re looking for. Brilliant teaches an array of science and math subjects through hands-on problem-solving.

The app favors short descriptions of concepts to learn paired with a problem to solve which incorporates those concepts. Unlike other learning apps, Brilliant doesn’t wait until the end of dense reading to test you and instead proceeds incrementally to build your toolset. Another helpful feature is the option to see the answer if you’re totally stumped, sparing you from blindly guessing and cluing you into the factors that may have caused you to hesitate.

Brilliant also allows you to tailor your learning experience based on what you want to get out of it. During setup, the app prompts you to choose a study style or purpose, whether it’s for boosting your career or pure curiosity, so it can push you the right amount for your goals.

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NASA: Best Astronomy Learning and Stargazing Guide Hybrid App

NASA on Android
What We Like
  • The app lets you learn about space directly from the people exploring it.

  • Multiple formats let you read articles, watch videos, or even go outside and stargaze yourself.

What We Don't Like
  • The interface isn't the cleanest, so it can be hard to navigate at times. 

  • There's a greater focus on new astronomy discoveries, so you might have to spend a lot of time brushing up on basics. 

Space is so immensely vast that leading-edge astronomers are constantly learning more about it, so why should you settle for yesterday’s astronomy lessons? The NASA app is one of the few education apps out there that will teach you what’s going on in one of the most fascinating fields of scientific study.

The NASA app serves up articles and videos to teach you the basics of astronomy, but where it really shines like a white dwarf is its focus on giving users a look at the latest developments from NASA’s work. Not only can you learn about NASA’s latest missions, but the app can direct you where to look to catch upcoming celestial events like eclipses or planetary sightings.

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MATH 42: Best Mini Graphing Calculator and Math Practice App

A review and practice exercise screen on the MATH 42 mobile app
What We Like
  • It gives you graphing calculator-like functions on your smartphone or tablet device. 

  • There's a dedicated section just for practicing certain kinds of problems.

What We Don't Like
  • It's not a dedicated graphing calculator, so don't expect it to act like one. 

  • Practice problems are multiple choice only, and don't let you use all the same tools you can for custom problems. 

MATH 42 was designed as a math aid, but it has a couple more tricks that make it stand out. Its main functionality lets you input math problems it then helps you solve, showing steps along the way. To help you along, the app provides a full suite of math tools, including a calculator and graphing tools for solving equations.

One neat trick is MATH 42 can also throw practice questions at you by type of math or mathematical principle to address. These problems are organized into specific categories to let you surgically target the areas to work on.