20 apps to up your skills

Blinkist brings you the knowledge from top nonfiction, so you can learn anytime, anywhere; @blinkist.com/

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “20 apps to up your skills” was written by Stuart Dredge, for The Observer on Saturday 9th May 2020 15.00 UTC

In early April, one bullish American consultant suggested on Twitter that if people didn’t emerge from coronavirus quarantine having learned a new skill, gained more knowledge or having started something they’d been putting off, then “you didn’t ever lack the time, you lacked the discipline”.

As the tweet was widely shared, it met mockery and anger in equal measure, as people noted that home schooling, financial worries, stress and/or illness are making this period anything but a delightful self-improvement holiday.

Getting through it is achievement enough. Rather than use gaining new knowledge and skills as some kind of laziness test, it might be better to see putting some time aside to learn a new skill as a way of gaining some focus during these precarious times.

With that in mind, here are 20 apps that, if you do have the time, could prove helpful. And if you don’t have time, rather than feel pressured to show “discipline” now, this list might be handy to file away for the future instead.


(Android/Apple – free + optional subscription)
Duolingo’s catchline – “Learn a language for free. Forever” – sounds a bit threatening. Thankfully, its app is excellent, with a wide range of languages covered and short, simple exercises designed for daily practice. Its optional subscription tier removes ads and adds more features. Also see: Babbel, Memrise.

Simply Piano by JoyTunes

Simply Piano
(Android/Apple – free + optional subscription)
If you’ve always wanted to play the piano, this app can help. It sets you exercises, then uses the microphone in your device to listen to your playing and provide feedback. It has a library of varied songs to learn, with two courses for free, and many more available with a subscription. Also see: Skoove, Piano by Yousician.

mimo app

(Android/Apple – free + optional subscription)
There has been lots of “kids can code” rhetoric in recent years, but many adults have taken up computer programming too. Mimo makes the discipline accessible without dumbing down or being over-dry. Several popular programming languages are supported, while a subscription unlocks its full library. Also see: SoloLearn, Swift Playgrounds.

anchor icon app podacsts

(Android/Apple – free)
This app is owned by Spotify, but it’s focused on podcasts rather than music. Making podcasts, that is. It will soon get you recording and editing shows, adding soundtracks and then publishing them to various podcast services. The app will also give you data on your listening figures. Also see: Podcast Studio by Spreaker.


(Android/Apple – free + optional subscription)
Promising yourself you will read lots of books while in self-isolation might be easy, but following through with the plan may prove more tricky. Blinkist is a clever complement to traditional reading: it condenses non-fiction books into 15-minute audiobooks. A subscription opens up its full library and offline listening. Also see: StoryShots, MicroBook.


(Android/Apple – free + optional subscription)
That guitar that’s been gathering dust for years? Its time is now! Yousician is one of the best apps for learning to play guitar (or ukulele) with bite-size lessons based on familiar songs, and, like Simply Piano, constant feedback – of the good kind. A subscription removes the free version’s restrictions. Also see: Fender Play, Simply Guitar.

candide gardening apop icon

Candide Gardening
(Android/Apple – free)
If you have a garden, the UK lockdown may have sparked your green-fingered ambitions. Candide Gardening is an excellent app to guide you, whether it’s in identifying plants, providing an archive of gardening guides or helping you find people who can answer your questions. Also see: Grow Your Own, Homefarm.

Driving Test 4 in 1

Driving Theory Test 4 in 1 Kit
(Android/Apple – £4.99)
Car journeys are being kept to essential trips at the moment and so driving lessons aren’t an option. But if you were learning (or had planned to) there’s nothing to stop you polishing your knowledge of the driving theory test, including, in this app, clips on hazard-prevention. Also see: Official DVSA Theory Test Kit.

sketchAR app

(Android/Apple – free + optional subscription)
If you lack confidence in your artistic skills, a blank piece of paper can be intimidating. SketchAR is a clever app that uses augmented reality to teach you to draw, as you hold your device over the paper. You can start from scratch or choose various topics to explore, such as animals or graffiti. Also see: Da Vinci Eye.

Yummly app

(Android/Apple – free + optional subscription)
More time at home should hopefully mean more time to try new recipes, but sourcing ingredients at the moment could present challenges. Yummly will develop your improvisational skills in the kitchen: not only offering guided recipes, but helping you find ideas based on the ingredients you have. Also see: Tasty, SuperCook.

steezy studio dance app

Steezy Studio
(Android/Apple – free + optional subscription)
Got two left feet? You can still learn to dance during the lockdown. Just make sure you move fragile heirlooms out of the way before trying this app in the living room. It offers more than 500 video classes in styles such as hip-hop, dance hall and breaking (as we said, move the heirlooms first…). Also see: Dance Reality.

learn cryptic crosswords app

Learn Cryptic Crosswords
(Android/Apple – free + in-app purchases)
Cryptic crosswords aren’t so cryptic once you start to learn some of the methods for solving them. This app does a really good job of explaining how to tackle these puzzles, testing you with exercises as you learn. The crosswords still aren’t easy, but you’ll be more confident. Also see: Cryptic Crossword.

Google Arts and culture app icon

Google Arts & Culture
(Android/Apple – free)
Nobody’s visiting museums or galleries for the moment, let alone travelling abroad to do so. A good moment for Google’s arts and culture app, then, which provides virtual tours of more than 2,000 “cultural institutions” around the world, using photos, videos and virtual reality. Also see: DailyArt.

elevate brain training app

Elevate: Brain Training
(Android/Apple – free + optional subscription)
Self-isolation doesn’t have to mean stagnation. Brain training apps such as Elevate are designed to keep your wits sharp with short daily exercises that test your memory, maths and other skills. You can play for free or subscribe to unlock lots more exercises. Also see: Peak, Lumosity.

Calm App Icon

(Android/Apple – free + optional subscription)
If getting to grips with mindfulness and meditation has been on your to-do list for a while, a pandemic feels like the right time to finally do it. Calm offers guided (spoken) meditations, relaxing music and even stories read by the likes of Stephen Fry and Matthew McConaughey to get you to sleep. Also see: Headspace, Insight Timer.

Brilliant maths app

(Android/Apple – free + optional subscription)
“I wish I’d tried harder at maths in school” is a common lament for people who have belatedly realised how useful those skills would be now. Brilliant is a good way to catch up on maths and science: it covers the basics up to some surprisingly advanced topics such as neural networks. Also see: Math Brain Booster Games.

daily yoga

Daily Yoga
(Android/Apple – free + optional subscription)
Yoga is another discipline that tends to linger on many people’s to-do lists for years. Daily Yoga is one of the best apps for beginners, taking you through the initial yoga positions to more advanced classes, complete with a “smart coach” that recommends what to do every day. Also see: Yoga Studio, Yoga Down Dog.

Kahn Academy app

Khan Academy
(Android/Apple – free)
Khan Academy is an American not-for-profit organisation (hence the lack of charge) that sees itself as a global classroom. That means courses on maths, computing, science and economics through to arts and humanities, with a blend of videos, articles and quizzes to test your learning. Also see: TED, MasterClass.

skillshare app

(Android/Apple – free + optional subscription)
If Khan Academy is good for maths and sciences, Skillshare goes in the other direction: towards drawing, photography, graphic design and other creative disciplines. There are also business-focused courses in topics such as marketing. A single subscription unlocks its catalogue. Also see: CreativeLive.


(Android/Apple – free + in-app purchases)
Coursera offers programming, art and design, sciences and business and other subjects across 3,500 online-learning courses, complete with video lectures and instructors, with fellow students to chat to. Some courses are free, while others must be paid for – and will award you certificates. Also see: Udemy, edX.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.