With many schools undergoing distance learning or operating in hybrid environments due to COVID-19, edtech tools are being used more broadly as a fundamental part of teaching and learning. Many products, though, are being elevated as primary or core resources with limited information available about the research backing each design.
Even before COVID-19 hit, we often heard from educators about how much time is spent trying to not only understand the unique needs of their learners, but discover and implement strategies to address the diversity of needs. Students who are learning English, are complex learners, have been exposed to adverse experiences, struggle with working memory issues, or simply don’t yet have the background knowledge needed to comprehend what they are reading, are far too often left out of products designed for one-size-fits-all learning.
So, how can teachers and parents discern if these tools are designed with each learner’s variability in mind? Are the edtech tools designed to support learning differences? Do they incorporate research-based features? Are they designed to engage, motivate, and help each learner learn best?
To help educators and families feel confident that the edtech products used by students support powerful learning, Digital Promise created a process to effectively certify products. Our latest certification focuses on learner variability and is intended as a signal that these products have intentionally designed in supports with the goal of attending to the unique needs of learners.
Our research on the Learner Variability Project (LVP) has demonstrated the tremendous variability among learners. Without designing to reach the full diversity of learners, we risk creating inequitable solutions that support certain learners and not others, widening opportunity gaps. We wanted to create a process for products to address learner variability with intention and to help them:
Criteria for the Learner Variability Product Certification were developed in partnership with LVP researchers, educators, administrators, and product developers in iterative feedback cycles. Four criteria emerged to assess each edtech product, with the aim of clearly explaining how the product supports variation among learners and noting how product developers have incorporated input from educators and diverse learners to design their features.
Check out the first 15 products to earn the Learner Variability certification.
The Learner Variability Product Certification supports a learner’s variability by bringing a whole child lens to designing learning environments. Advancing whole child learning is not only a tenet of the LVP’s free web app, the Learner Variability Navigator, but it is embraced by numerous research-oriented organizations, including the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Turnaround for Children, Universal Design for Learning, ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative, and many others.
For product developers, earning the Learner Variability Product Certification means they designed features that intentionally support a wide array of unique learner needs. It also means they included input from practitioners and learners in the design.
However, while our product certification adheres to rigorous research standards, it still is not a guarantee that a certified product will work for each and every learner. Why? Because learning is complex. It’s multi-dimensional. Many factors go into whether a feature or product works successfully in the classroom or in a digital learning environment. Our certification does make clear that at least the baseline design was intentional and has a level of understanding of and support for learner variability, which can increase the likelihood that a product will work for more learners as it addresses their uniqueness.
Product developers can apply to earn the Learner Variability Product Certification here.
Explore the Edtech Marketplace Today blog series to hear other voices from the field share important perspectives on challenges and strategies to improve the edtech market. Visit the Product Certifications and Learner Variability Project websites to learn more about our work.