The 4 best free online learning apps 2021

14 May 2021

With ever more educational apps on offer, how do you find the ones that actually improve online learning and that benefit your students and your own classroom management the most? We’ve compared some of the most popular K-12 online learning resources on offer. Read on to discover the 4 best free apps for online learning in 2021!

The pandemic has increased educators’ reliance on digital learning apps and technology in the classroom profoundly. But edtech isn’t new. Adaptive learning apps and K-12 online learning solutions have steadily gained popularity over the past two decades. And for good reason! The advantages of using educational apps for the classroom are unmistakable:

  • Higher engagement. Anything fun and entertaining is going to grab students’ attention. So do colorful and moving graphics. They stimulate the mind, helping students improve their productivity and brain development while motivating them to keep learning.
  • Personalized learning. Each learner is different. Using educational apps can support students’ different learning styles and gives them a variety of options and ways to learn. They do so at their own pace, which enables a more independent learning experience.
  • Better performance. Educational apps can actually help students improve their academic performance. Apps can act like private tutors, but are less strict and don’t put as much pressure on learners.
  • Less learning barriers. A traditional classroom setting may not be a good fit for children with learning disabilities. Educational apps can serve as a much-needed addition to meet diverse learners’ needs and help children with learning struggles.
  • Saved resources. Educational apps also help save resources like paper, pens, and most importantly, teaching time.

There’s a vast array of educational apps out there, so how do you find the ones that benefit your students and your own classroom management the most? We’ve carefully compared the most popular K-12 apps on the market. Here are the 4 best free apps for online learning in 2021:

1. Kahoot!

Gamified lessons to boost student engagement

Kahoot! is a tool for game-based learning loved by millions of educators. It makes it super easy to create, share and play learning games or trivia quizzes and spark classroom discussions in minutes. It allows teachers to introduce new topics, teach interactive lessons, review, recap, reward, and collect data for formative assessment in creative and engaging ways. 

Kahoot! makes it easy for teachers to gamify their online classes, but also to have vibrant group quizzes and conversations in the physical classroom. In a live group setting, players answer on their own devices while questions can be displayed on a big shared screen. Sending self-paced Kahoot! challenges is also possible, for example as homework or during distance learning. 

What’s cool about Kahoot!…

  • Kahoot! piques students’ motivation to learn with competitive knowledge games and instant scoreboards.
  • It supports self-directed learning and collaboration. Teachers can encourage students to create their own kahoots, individually or in groups, or let them play in team mode.
  • It’s a textbook example of increasing student engagement. The platform works like a digital classroom response system where study and play come together, and there are ample options to add videos, images and diagrams. 
  • Besides games and trivia, Kahoot! also offers a means to collect student opinions.
  • It works both in the physical classroom and to connect with students at home as part of a hybrid or remote education setting.
  • It comes with an extensive free library. Besides creating custom ‘kahoots’, educators can also simply search and make their pick from millions of existing games. 
  • It’s diverse and accessible: Kahoot! works for any subject, in any language and on any device. 
  • Kahoot! ranks among the top most popular educational apps in the COOL app library and is used daily by our global community of teachers and students!


2. Scratch

Coding for K-12 students

Programming is an excellent way to teach students problem-solving skills and logic. Given the high demand of such skills – and coding in particular – it makes sense to introduce students to it early. Scratch is a free, nonprofit coding platform that does just that. Budding programmers can create their own games and solve problems through coding while practicing their logical thinking and math skills.

On Scratch, students learn not only how to interact with a computer but also to create with it. They can program various media such as interactive stories, online games, and animations by dragging and dropping coding blocks and share their creations with others in the online community. As they code with Scratch, students train essential 21st century skills: They learn to think creatively, work collaboratively, and reason systematically.

What’s cool about Scratch…

  • Scratch offers a fun way to learn programming and develop creativity, logical thinking and problem-solving skills without much teacher guidance. 
  • It’s visually appealing and easy to operate for K-12 students. Scratch is designed specifically for young people ages 8 to 16. For children ages 5 to 7, there’s ScratchJr.
  • It teaches mathematical and computational concepts in a meaningful and motivating context. For example, when controlling the speed of an animation or keeping track of the score in a game a student creates. 
  • It introduces students to the process of design: They get an idea, create a project, which leads to new ideas, which lead to new projects, and so on. 
  • It helps students develop a deeper level of fluency with the digital technologies they encounter every day and combines key 21st century learning skills. For example: creative thinking, clear communication, systematic analysis, effective collaboration, iterative design and continuous learning. 
  • The Scratch website encompasses a whole ecosystem, including the coding app, tips, galleries, educational videos, and more.
  • The Scratch programming language builds on Google’s innovative Blockly technology


3. Flipgrid

Social learning to empower student voice

A lack of social interaction is often mentioned as a downside of using educational apps in the classroom. Not with Flipgrid! Flipgrid offers a simple, free, and accessible video discussion experience for educators, learners and families. It enables teachers to start a discussion and engage their classroom in a creative digital environment where personalities and ideas shine. 

Teachers post topics and prompts to spark the conversation and students can respond with thoughtful short videos. This empowers student voice beyond writing or typing and enhances their learning through public speaking, using emotion, and displaying understanding. An approachable, intuitive tool, Flipgrid offers connectedness and multiple means of expression and can be applied to almost any topic. 

What’s cool about Flipgrid…

  • Flipgrid is the world’s leading video discussion platform used by educators to let students respond to prompts, complete assignments, or simply reflect on their learnings. 
  • It has a virtually endless array of applications, from asking students to describe the way they solved a math problem or review a movie, to engaging them in conversations about current world events and assigning questions as homework.
  • It provides a fresh way for students to complete schoolwork and involve peers in their process of accomplishing a particular task. This gives insight into students’ learning process while also giving them the opportunity to teach others.
  • It allows students who don’t feel comfortable speaking in front of the class to share their ideas with classmates on their own terms and in a self-picked setting. Flipgrid also offers a mic-only option and digital stickers that students can use to cover their image.
  • Because of Flipgrid’s asynchronous nature, it’s a great tool for every learning situation, from remote learning, to BYOD classrooms, to classrooms with fewer devices than students. 
  • It’s highly accessible. From automatic closed captioning to an immersive screen reader, accessibility features are A+.
  • Flipgrid offers extensive teacher resources. The Discovery Library is full of ready-to-use discussion prompts with 25,000+ community-generated topics from fellow educators and partners. 
  • The Flipgrid blog and Twitter feed are packed with great tips for using Flipgrid in the classroom. 


4. MyLife

Student well-being and social-emotional learning

With many schools and districts being in the midst of reopening and implementing hybrid learning strategies, attention for well-being and social-emotional learning has rightly become a top priority. Therefore, though not completely free, MyLife for Schools is worth mentioning here as well. 

MyLife for Schools is a wonderful web-based mindfulness app that can be used in the classroom, during distance learning or as part of a hybrid educational model. It promotes social-emotional learning and helps young people regulate their emotions. In the app, K-12 students check in regularly with how they’re feeling. MyLife then recommends short mindfulness activities attuned to their responses.

Some of the app’s features are only available through the premium version, which costs $9.99 monthly or $59 yearly. Educators can apply for lifelong free access to MyLife.

What’s cool about MyLife…

  • MyLife is a digital tool to reduce stress and anxiety both at home and in the classroom. It can be easily implemented for distance learning and underscores the core competencies of social-emotional learning.
  • It offers students a safe platform for sharing and acknowledging their emotions as well as a way to track their mood overtime.
  • Its adaptive features engage students in short and impactful mindfulness activities personalized to their emotional state.
  • It can help teachers to establish a calm and focused atmosphere in their classrooms in under ten minutes.
  • It offers extensive, culturally diverse content. MyLife comes with 400+ accessible guided mindfulness tracks and animated videos.
  • Schools can monitor data and trends to inform their educational strategy. A global overview shows app usage and student emotional data.
  • It’s free for educators.


All your educational apps in one place with COOL

Whatever educational apps and websites you introduce to your students, it’s better to offer a small palette of excellent apps than to overwhelm them with endless options. 

An online learning platform like COOL can bring everything together in one easy place. The personalized COOL dashboard gives students and teachers easy and instant access to all their favorite apps. Discover the possibilities here or request a demo to learn more.


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Want to explore more amazing K-12 online learning resources? Discover 6 free resources to teach K-12 students about climate change.