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Educate yourself: 10 great apps for learning new things

From coding to exploring our world, it’s never too late to discover new things – and iOS can help

Through Safari alone, your iPhone or iPad can be a gateway to a wealth of human knowledge that once would have required countless libraries to house it. However, just having access to information isn’t always enough to encourage people to learn.

This is where great apps for learning come in. We’ve trawled the App Store for those that hit a sweet spot, in being affordable, structured, engaging, entertaining, and mobile-oriented.

Therefore, whether you’re settling down for a quiet evening, or are traveling home on a bus or train, these apps can help you fill time by filling up your brain with new ideas, facts and knowledge.

Lingvist: learn a new language on your iPhone

Free • v2.8 • 50.9 MB • By Lingvist Technologies OU

There are many language-learning apps for iPhone, but Lingvist is our current favorite. It eschews fluff and clutter, instead doubling down on speed and efficiency by way of a smart, minimal, context-sensitive interface.

After choosing a language (French, German, Spanish or Russian), you work your way through a number of cards. Each has a slot for a missing word, into which you type whatever Lingvist is asking for.

You can at any point reveal the word. The idea is over time you won’t need to do so, because new vocabulary will eventually burn itself into your brain.

You won’t become fluent overnight with the app, but it’s a great first step that’s simple to understand, engaging to use, and that offers handy additional tips (such as grammar and verb tables) in context, when required.

Download Lingvist

Encode: learn how to code using your iPhone

Free or $4.99/£4.99 • v1.2.2 • 35.2 MB • By Upskew Pty. Ltd.

Being able to speak to other humans is all well and good, but many people believe the most important languages to learn are ones that enable you to communicate with computers.

Encode is at the gentler end of the scale, concentrating on technologies that form the building blocks of web pages. By way of approachable, bite-sized exercises, you learn about HTML (the mark-up language that structures the web), CSS (used for styling web page elements), and JavaScript (a scripting language for adding advanced functionality to web pages).

This is a good starting point for anyone with an interest in taking things further. The JavaScript exercises, for example, examine the fundamentals of programming, such as variables, booleans, functions and objects. And if you’re still not sure, you can get started for free, before unlocking the remaining lessons with a one-off IAP.

Download Encode

Yousician: use your iPhone to learn guitar and piano

Free + IAP • v2.31.1 • 172 MB • By Yousician Ltd

These days, you’re as likely to see someone wrestling with a tiny plastic guitar communicating with a games console as an actual instrument. The cunning plan someone at Yousician hit on was to turn learning the real thing into a game.

Hence, install Yousician and your iPhone transforms into something akin to Guitar Hero. The app teaches you notes and chords, represented on screen by colored lozenges in a scrolling 2D landscape. Time your actions well enough and you can try tackling riffs and, eventually, full songs.

If you prefer tinkling ivories rather than strumming strings, pianos are also catered for (through you plugging a USB keyboard into your iPhone). Either way, this is a clever, playful way to learn an instrument.

(Note: Yousician is a free app, but limits playtime per day. An IAP subscription is required for unlimited time.)

Download Yousician

Kitchen Stories: learn how to cook using your iPhone

Free • v8.5.1 • 70.2 MB • By AJNS New Media

It says a lot about Kitchen Stories that the very first thing it showed us on opening the app when writing this feature was: ‘The secret to a perfectly poached egg’. So although this app does house all kinds of recipes for scrumptious meals and desserts, it doesn’t avoid the basics, and nor does it make too many assumptions about your ability.

On that basis, it’s not too much of a stretch to suggest it could help you learn to cook. To illustrate this, an included recipe for roast pork with sauerkraut and potatoes would in other apps be a list of steps and a photo of the final deal. But in Kitchen Stories, you get a list of required utensils, a guide with a photo, ingredients list and oven instructions for every step, and relevant video tutorials to watch, including ‘how to cut up an onion’. Tasty!

Download Kitchen Stories

Tinycards: memorize key facts using your iPhone

Free • v1.0.20 • 49.0 MB • By Duolingo

Flash cards are a common way to help people revise for exams. However, in Tinycards, they become a fun way to learn new facts. If you’ve never quite mastered what bones sit where in the human body, the countries of the world, or the periodic table, there’s a deck to help.

The testing bit is nicely tactile: you swipe colorful cards about, prod multiple choice answers, and occasionally manually type something in. And if you discover that a subject you really want to learn about is missing entirely from Tinycards, you can fashion your own deck and share it with the world.

Download Tinycards

The Elements: learn about life’s building blocks on your iPhone

$13.99/£13.99 • v2.0.7 • 1.84 GB • By Touch Press Inc

Something of an App Store darling on its original release for iPad, The Elements also works surprisingly well on the iPhone. It’s effectively an interactive book about the building blocks of life. You can explore the periodic table, delving into the facts and figures of any given element.

But what sets The Elements apart from a paper tome is its photography. Every element is presented on-screen as a sample you can rotate and zoom. If you’ve got some 3D glasses, there’s even an option to split an object into 3D images, which can still be freely manipulated – a kind of virtual reality beyond almost everyone a mere decade ago, but that’s now in the palm of your hand.

Download The Elements

Stephen Hawking’s Pocket Universe: discover brain-bending concepts on your iPhone

$4.99/£4.99 • v1.0.2 • 159 MB • By Random House

It’s a brave publisher that attempts to create an accessible app based around what’s inside Stephen Hawking’s head, but Pocket Universe succeeds in fine style. At its core, this is a digital book, but it’s one that totally understands the modern user trying to ingest facts while using an iPhone.

Complex ideas and concepts (the big bang; black holes; space-time) are broken down into manageable chunks. These are joined by colorful, informative illustrations.

It doesn’t feel in any way arduous to work through, and the book helpfully tracks the subjects you’ve encountered and topics you’ve completed. And because the book’s such a joy to browse, you’ll over time find its ideas sinking in, not least because you’ll want to revisit them time and time again.

Download Stephen Hawking’s Pocket Universe

Solar Walk 2: learn about the solar system on your iPhone

$2.99/£2.99 • v1.5.0 • 709 MB • By Vito Technology Inc.

This app’s halfway between a digital orrery and a simulation of the solar system squashed into your iPhone. Either way, it provides a visually dazzling and user-friendly way to zip about the planets, or just sit back and watch them orbit the Sun.

When you want to find out more about any particular planetary body, tap on it to open up a selection of facts. There are graphs aplenty, and a neat bit where you crack open the planet to peek at what’s inside. If you’re after words rather than visuals, that’s also catered for by way of Solar Walk’s own miniature space encyclopedia, and embedded Wikipedia articles.

Download Solar Walk 2

Sky Guide: use your iPhone to learn about the stars

$2.99/£2.99 • v6.2.3 • 177 MB • By Fifth Star Labs LLC

Logically, once you’ve happily gorged on learning about Mercury, Jupiter and beyond, you can next set your eyes on the stars. Sky Guide is the best astronomy app for iPhone, marrying a gorgeous, tasteful, minimal interface with plenty of information for anyone wanting to back the majesty of the heavens with hard facts.

You can navigate Sky Guide by dragging the screen to adjust the viewpoint or by holding the device to the sky, so it matches whatever you’re seeing. Stars, constellations and satellites each have their own information pages you can delve into; and should you want to, you can speed up time, to watch the virtual heavens whirling around on your iPhone’s screen.

Download Sky Guide

WWF Together: use your iPhone to learn about endangered wildlife

Free • v2.1.7 • 944 MB • By World Wildlife Fund

Back down to Earth now, with an app determined to help people understand more about endangered species. Each of the 16 stories is presented as a playful, interactive combination of often unusual facts, gorgeous photography, and amusing games.

When learning about the Monarch Butterfly, you can manically tap the screen, trying in vain to match how quickly it beats its wings. Think you can outrun a jaguar? The app will track your own running speed and give you the bad news.

It’s a disarmingly beautiful app, although bittersweet when you realize many of these creatures may not survive for much longer. Still, if technology can help spread awareness and result in more people demanding change, we’re all for that.

Download WWF Together