Review: What’s Wrong with Earobics?

The name “Earobics” is brilliant. It evokes the image of a workout for the ear. Should poor readers use Earobics software to improve their literacy skills? Does it provide what they need?

I’m a speech-language pathologist who has used both Earobics and Fast ForWord software in my private clinic. Earobics is not a good use of your money. I’ll give you my opinion of Earobics in light of the needs of three groups:

  • parents who are looking for a way to help their child become a better reader.
  • educators looking for interventions that improve literacy skills.
  • speech-language pathologists considering purchasing or recommending software for literacy intervention.

What is Earobics?

Earobics is software created by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, an educational and trade publisher based in Boston. This company has a long history of supplying school districts with teaching manuals, student workbooks and classroom manipulatives.

Original Earobics Home Version

Earobics home version

Parents can still find the original Earobics CDs for sale on sites like Amazon. These CDs date back to 2002.

Earobics Home Version Step One is for ages 4 ot 7. It is a software program that focuses on phonological awareness and auditory processing skills. It uses six interactive games with escalating levels of difficulty.

Earobics Home Version Step Two is for ages 7 to 11. It teaches language comprehension skills that are critical for extracting meaning from spoken language and written text. There are five interactive games with 593 levels.

My Experience with the Original Earobics Home Version

I purchased these for use in my clinic many years ago. I only used them with a few clients because I disliked them so much. One of the main problems was that the CD had to be in the drive in order to use the program. Because the games were so graphics-heavy, the CD drive was constantly humming. The system noise was very distracting, even with headphones on. It defeated the purpose of working on careful listening.

Another problem was that the games would stall. Children would hit the ENTER button repeatedly, causing computer problems.

It wasn’t possible to have someone progress through the levels in a therapeutic step-by-step way. Students could access materials that were too difficult. One little boy fixated on his favourite game and went back to it incessantly. A trained adult had to keep track of progress and help the student log in to the correct exercise. I wasn’t confident that an assistant would be able to supervise implementation properly.

The design was too cluttered. There was too much talking and unnecessary action on the screen. Students with autism or language impairments would lose interest. Students with attention deficits would focus on the wrong thing.

Revised Earobics Home Versions and Clinic Versions

Earobics home new

The original CD’s were revised and renamed. In this revision, Earobics Step One was referred to as Earobics Foundations and Earobics Step Two was referred to at Earobics Connections. Some of the computer compatibility problems were solved in this version, but the design and content of the games remained the same. The progression of exercises was improved so that students didn’t require as much supervision. The home versions were licensed for two users.

The clinic versions were designed for speech-language pathologists and educators. These versions allowed up to six users and included data collection and reports.

They were also sold as CDs that had to be in the drive in order for the program to run. I haven’t tried these versions so I don’t know if the system noise would be as problematic as it was with the earlier versions. There are numerous companies selling these CDs online, but the CDs have been discontinued on the publisher’s website. 

Earobics Pre-K to 3 for Schools

Earobics Pre K - 3The new online version of Earobics requires classroom teaching skills and materials. It isn’t for home use. It gives teachers in the primary grades an assessment tool and curriculum for phonological awareness. The dashboard for teachers and administrators allows for data collection. Teachers can order alphabet mats, student workbooks, picture word cards, and lots of other manipulatives. Classroom packages and teacher training modules cost several thousand dollars.

In 2010, the Nevada Department of Education commissioned a study to assess 24 reading programs being used in the state. It was a comprehensive study that spanned two years and many grades. Fast ForWord was ranked the most effective program, whereas Earobics was one of five programs that showed “no gain.”

Interestingly, the Leadership and Learning Centre was the group commissioned to undertake this study for the Nevada Department of Education. They are a division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Obviously, the publishers are aware of this research finding. This might explain why they have beefed up Earobics with classroom implementation. It has become impossible to evaluate Earobics software on its own merits.

Pros and Cons of Earobics Pre-K to 3 for Schools

PROS for Educators and School SLPs.

  • Gives teachers in the primary grades an assessment tool and curriculum for phonological awareness.
  • Emphasizes listening skills and language comprehension as important prerequisites for reading acquisition.
  • The Earobics system is aligned with the core curriculum in the US.
  • Teachers can purchase classroom manipulatives and trade books to support a curriculum for phonological awareness.

CONS for Educators and School SLPs:

  • Earobics has not been proven as a comprehensive reading intervention program that produces long-term measurable gains.
  • The publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, is a marketing dynamo. School districts are enticed to spend a lot of money on this unproven software.

Should Educators Purchase Earobics?

I’m grateful that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has taken an interest in phonological awareness and language comprehension. The company has obviously worked hard to pair their initial Earobics software with a substantial method for classroom teachers. If I was a grade one teacher, I would love having the clout of a respected publishing company to help me convince my school principal that I needed alphabet mats and picture word cards for my classroom.

The twin foundations of phonological awareness and language comprehension are crucial for early reading acquisition. The Houghton Mifflin Harcourt company is giving teachers a framework for excellent teaching. If you work for a school district, you should be promoting phonological awareness and language comprehension. If you have a huge budget, go ahead and buy Earobics for early reading acquisition in the normal population.

I still maintain that Earobics is not a good use of your money. This is because Earobics software by itself does not produce any gains. Earobics failed miserably in a comparison of 24 programs that were studied over a two year period. The three top “high gain programs” identified by the Nevada Department of Education in 2010 were:

  • Fast ForWord (22% improvement)
  • Corrective Reading (18% improvement)
  • SRA Reading Labs (17% improvement)

Nevada Fast ForWord

Should Parents Purchase Earobics?

Should parents purchase Earobics to help a poor reader become a better reader? In my opinion, the original software CDs are a poor fit as a home program or as an intervention delivered by a speech-language pathologist in a private clinic. There are too many design flaws and implementation problems.

The revised versions have less implementation problems. Unfortunately, I can’t recommend them because I didn’t like the design. My students with learning challenges would focus on the the wrong thing or lose interest. In contrast, they were attentive and on task with Fast ForWord. To see for yourself how clean and simple the design of Fast ForWord is, sign up for a free interactive demo.

Here is the bottom line. Earobics software is not the answer for parents who are looking for online software that will help a poor reader become a good reader.

The Fast ForWord Program is a “High-Gain Program” per Nevada DOE Report

 

You can access a free PDF of the Educator’s Briefing on the study by the Nevada Department of Education. Just enter your name and email to unlock the download.

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author Neuroplan

Online speech language therapy and literacy apps. We offer treatment programs for people who struggle with Dyslexia, Learning Disabilities, ADD/ADHD, Autism, Auditory Processing, Acquired Brain Injury, Stuttering and English Literacy.

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