The name should have been the first clue: “edtech” is supposed to be about both “education” and “technology,” but it is easy to overemphasize the second part and even to completely ignore the first part. Once investors, concerned about the bottom line, come into the picture, the situation can become even more complicated. Here are a few ways to ensure that edtech focuses on learners, not investors.
It doesn’t really matter how new, exciting, or interesting the product is: if it can’t produce results, it shouldn’t be promoted. And “results” doesn’t mean that the marketing department was able to massage some data to show a small improvement for a small subset of students.
Rather, it means that rigorous testing shows that the edtech product actually benefits all of the student populations for whom it is marketed. There are clearninghouses designed to make it easy for non-specialists to access data about what actually works in education, and edtech should be created in such a way so as to merit a place in those listings.
There is certainly no lack of confidence in the tech sector. For the most part, this is the deserved and natural result of a field of endeavor that has revolutionized virtually every aspect of the world. But what it hasn’t done is to change basic human nature. And that means that there are some principles of educational psychology that need to be reflected in any instructional materials—even the digital ones—if they hope to be successful.
Sometimes, it seems, edtech advocates simply assume that their product will produce the desired educational results, even if they haven’t put in the time to be sure that their product meshes well with what we know about how people learn. It is probably this dynamic that is responsible for the somewhat depressing history of the results of edtech.
Edtech designers can no longer just assume that because their product engages students, it will generate improved educational outcomes. And they certainly can’t assume that just because it pleases investors, it will improve outcomes. In fact, those two dimensions—outcomes and investors—are likely to be at cross-purposes, since the best edtech requires a concentrated, often expensive, effort to ensure that it is aligned with what we know helps students to learn.
It’s long past time to be sure that we keep the “ed” in “edtech” in pride of place.