March 12, 2019 | By Sierra Noakes
“There is definitely something wrong, something broken, with the edtech marketplace. People who should really care about research are turning a blind eye to the lack of research supporting product development.” – Ben Grimley, CEO of Speak Agent
Over the past three months, Digital Promise had conversations with nearly 50 stakeholders who purchase, use, or develop educational technology (edtech). Like Ben Grimley, these stakeholders revealed myriad ways in which the edtech marketplace fails to fully support learners and learner variability.
Every district leader, school leader, and educator we spoke with described the edtech marketplace as an overflowing pool of products that rarely supports the jagged profile of learner needs and seldom integrates research into product development. These demand-side stakeholders search for products to support their unique learners in their unique contexts, but selecting the most appropriate products currently proves challenging and time-consuming.
On the other hand, according to the large edtech companies we spoke with, sales are largely made via word of mouth, and they manage to see strong profits without investing the time and money required to incorporate significant research-based practices into their products. Candidly, edtech developers from larger companies questioned whether adding features that attend to learner variability would prove profitable when “one size fits all” models are easier to develop, sell, and scale district-wide.
Smaller edtech developers, however, had a different perspective. The expansive market makes it difficult for their lesser-known products to stand out and signal that they can support learner variability and should, therefore, be piloted in schools and districts. Several smaller developers hesitated to make claims with limited evidence, but feared that not marketing their products’ efficacy put them at a disadvantage compared to larger companies making questionable claims. Additionally, developers shared a sense of a growing distrust among education leaders when they hear “research-based,” as many products that make this claim cannot support their product’s efficacy within certain contexts or when supporting unique learners.
How do we get the right tools into the hands of the teachers and students who need them? How do we solve for limited—and often imperfect—information in the marketplace? How do we infuse research-mindedness to drive decision-making into both the supply and demand sides of the edtech marketplace?
Through our new Edtech Marketplace Today blog series, school and district leaders, nonprofit staff members, and product developers will share their perspectives around the ways in which the edtech marketplace falls short of meeting authentic learner needs. Digital Promise hopes that by providing a platform to elevate the voices of those demanding change, we can inspire educators, nonprofits, and product developers to demand high quality information to make the best choices for students.
Visit the Product Certifications website and explore products that have earned the Research-Based Design certification to learn more about the edtech marketplace. Keep up with the Edtech Marketplace Today blog series to hear voices from the field share important perspectives on challenges and strategies to improve the edtech market. Subscribe to Digital Promise’s Action Report to stay up-to-date on their work.
By Jackie Gantzer and Jin-Soo Huh