As electronic devices and broadband internet make their way into classrooms around the country, the U.S. education technology market is flooded with new instructional software products. The Software and Information Industry Association estimates the ed-tech market is now worth $9 billion. This heightened interest in education among investors and developers is exciting; we need all hands on deck to improve student learning and success.
Educators are now faced with an unprecedented amount of choices on what classroom tools to use. And more choice does not necessarily mean better decision-making. There is still a dearth of reliable, independent information to help superintendents, teachers, and parents navigate all of the available ed-tech products and tools. A recent study by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, found that the 3,100 teachers surveyed use a total of 964 unique student-facing digital products. And yet just more than half said the products students use are actually effective.
For entrepreneurs, there are additional challenges. There are 14,000 school districts in the U.S., each with its own unique set of needs and policies. For promising technology developers, it is difficult to discover which schools are a strong fit for their products and how to achieve meaningful adoption.
One of our core focus areas at Digital Promise is solving this very conundrum. We want to help create:
Smart demand – where consumers make purchasing decisions based on instructional and academic goals, an outcome-driven view of the market, and meaningful input from stakeholders.
Smart supply – where entrepreneurs develop tools that are backed by learning research and can be widely adopted because they directly address the needs of educators.
Through a study with the Johns Hopkins University Center for Research and Reform in Education and the Education Industry Association, we are conducting a deep examination of the challenges facing both school leaders and technology developers. While our study is ongoing, the initial responses have provided some helpful insights into the biggest challenges around the personalized learning discovery process.
A sampling from school leaders we surveyed:
“Teachers and principals do not have the spare time to sit through elaborate presentations and sales pitches of various products.”
It is difficult to “identify the success rates for implementation of a product” and “master the maze of what resources are effective in the long run.”
It is a challenge to “identify appropriate apps, by school need.”
The developers of those products are glancing back at their customers with similar confusion. A sampling from technology providers we surveyed:
“Not only are buyers unclear about offerings, but they are also unclear about the efficacy of approaches. So often they spend as they have done historically, without regard to whether or not it will have any impact.”
There is a prevalence of “low-knowledge buyers that don’t know what’s in the marketplace except for the few folks that get past the gatekeeper.”
It is “hard to identify which schools/districts are a good fit for us. Plus, our internal efficacy rigor is rarely an asset because few districts know how to asses or differentiate vendor efficacy claims.”
You can see the wide gap that makes it difficult for customers and suppliers to find each other within a noisy marketplace. Educators may be experiencing a “paradox of choice,” a theory from behavioral economics that suggests the more options available, the longer it takes to evaluate them, leading to indecision and, potentially, regret.
Other industries have faced this problem and developed solutions. For instance, in the travel industry, as the number of airlines and hotels grew, it became more difficult for consumers to find the right accommodations at the right price. Initially, travel agents emerged, and now technology platforms, from both third-party services and industry players, aggregate, filter, and curate the available choices and even make the final transactions possible.
We hope in better understanding the challenges facing all players in the market, we can aspire toward answering those questions, and ultimately move toward some meaningful solutions.