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
Introduction

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.

01
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Best Tool for Learning Another Language on the Go: Duolingo

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 teaching concepts like grammar.

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

Duolingo stands out among language learning apps, and among education apps overall. Duolingo includes dozens of languages, including a couple of fictional ones just for fun. Each language offers a mostly linear path divided into topics of conversation. Each topic presents you with short exercises to familiarize you with the material through spoken and written formats.

The app encourages you to make a habit of practicing with a reward system and a social component. You'll receive between one and five lingots of app currency for each day in which you meet your set threshold. You can spend lingots 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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02
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Best for Watching Short Talks About Innovative New Ideas: TED

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


  • Offers a versatile viewing experience 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 that strive to teach the fundamentals of existing knowledge, TED exposes its audience to a 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. You'll find 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 convenient features, including downloading videos for offline viewing and locking your device without interrupting playback.

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03
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Best for an In-Depth Programming Language Learning Experience: Codeacademy

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 limited course set for the free tier.

If you're 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 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. Choose the direction you find most interesting, and Codeacademy presents 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 step has 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.

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

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04
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Best App for Learning Languages Through Memory Devices: Memrise

Lesson screen on the Memrise mobile app
What We Like
  • The encouragement to use mnemonic devices gives 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 teaching grammar. Instead, it favors words and phrases.

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

If you thought memes couldn't teach you anything, think again. With Memrise, you 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, you can choose from those submitted by other users. By thinking about mnemonics, you'll build confidence and vocabulary in new languages with associations that are natural to you. Aside from this, the app's regimen yields a gradual increase in vocabulary and concepts.

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05
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Best Personal Tutor-Style Learning App: Khan Academy

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
  • The topics are limited and geared toward math and science fields.

  • 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 range of subjects. It does so in a personal one-on-one style rather than a recorded lecture.

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

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

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06
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Best App For Taking Top U.S. University Courses Online: edX

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

  • Technical courses like programming include online interactive tools such as 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 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 university courses, taught by professors, at some of the most prestigious schools in the U.S. via video. Courses are free, and the app extends the option 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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07
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Best Digital Flashcard Designing and Sharing App: Tinycards

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 their decks.

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 you pick the perfect deck to fit your 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 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. The quizzes are in multiple-choice and keyboard input format, neither of which let you peak until you make your guess.

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08
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Best Logic Puzzle Solving App: Brilliant

Brilliant on Android
What We Like
  • The focus on learning through 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 may feel under-prepared.

  • As with many 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 stumped. This feature spares you from blindly guessing and clues 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. The app prompts you to choose a study style or purpose during the setup, whether it's for boosting your career or pure curiosity. This way, it can push you the right amount for your goals.

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09
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Best Astronomy Learning and Stargazing Guide Hybrid App: NASA

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 go outside and stargaze.

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

  • It focuses on new astronomy discoveries, so you might have to spend time brushing up on the basics. 

Space is so vast that leading-edge astronomers are continually learning more about it. So, why should you settle for yesterday's astronomy lessons? The NASA app is one of the few educational apps that teaches you what's going on in one of the most fascinating fields of scientific study.

The NASA app serves up articles and videos that teach the basics of astronomy. Where it really shines like a white dwarf is its focus on giving you a look at the latest developments from NASA's work. You'll learn about NASA's latest missions, and the app directs you where to look to catch upcoming celestial events like eclipses and planetary sightings.

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10
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Best Mini Graphing Calculator and Math Practice App: MATH 42

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

  • There's a dedicated section 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 the same tools you can for custom problems.

MATH 42 was designed as a math aid, and it has a few more tricks that make it stand out. Its main functionality lets you input math problems, which it helps you solve, showing steps along the way. 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 throw practice questions at you by type of math or mathematical principle. These problems are organized into categories to let you target the areas to work on.

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