Determining Whether an EdTech Program Is Right for Your Institution

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Education technology companies raised nearly 1.5 billion in 2018, according to EdSurge, eclipsing 2017 investments and demonstrating that the booming edtech industry has no intention of slowing down anytime soon.

But with the proliferation of choices in this ever-growing field, how can higher education institutions determine which—if any—of the innovations promising to improve student outcomes is right for them?

4 Ways to Be Sure You’re Selecting the Right EdTech for Your Program

There is a lot of edtech out there, and deciding which programs (if any) to adopt can be overwhelming. Here are four steps to take to ensure you’re making wise decisions.

Identify the Problem

It can be tempting, when studying the edtech options available to your organization, to start with the product, choosing an exciting offering and then finding a way to work it into curricula or operations. But this approach often leads educators to start creating problems that may not have existed in order to find a place for the new tech. In the long run, this means a waste of resources and, potentially, a host of new issues to resolve.

Instead, we recommend starting internally, identifying existing problems, gaps, or inefficiencies that might benefit from the right edtech solution. Perhaps students are unprepared for job interviews, or perhaps professors are struggling to tailor their curriculum to meet their classes’ needs.

Once you have a clear sense of the problem, then start looking for the solution. This will significantly narrow your field of options, limit distractions, and streamline your search.

Establish Criteria

Once you understand what problem you’re trying to solve, we recommend identifying key criteria to look for in a solution. This means outlining details about who will use the solution, how they’ll use it, and what (approximately) it should cost. Here are a few suggestions of criteria to pin down as you start your search:

  • User volume: Are you looking for a solution every single student can use, or something that will be limited to a smaller pool of faculty or administrators?
  • Privacy: What kind of data will the ideal solution be working with, and what kind of protections will you require to keep user information secure?
  • Integrations: Will this system need to work in conjunction with existing platforms, or will it stand alone?
  • Support: What kind of resources do you have available to train users on the new system? Are you looking for something super simple, or are you prepared to adopt a more complex solution, provided the vendor offers adequate support?
  • Budget: How much is your organization willing and able to spend?
  • Desired Result: This goes back to the problem you identified in step one. What outcomes will indicate to you and your team that the solution is successful?

When you’re clear on what you need and want from a product, it’s much easier to distinguish the ones that definitely won’t work from the ones that might. And, when it comes time to talk details with vendors, you’ve got a list of key questions ready to go.

Do Your Due Diligence (Trust)

Every single edtech vendor will tell you their goal is to improve education, and it’s not always easy to look past the exciting features or heart-tugging marketing content to suss out their true missions. So before you get too attached to a product, we recommend doing your due diligence to ensure you’re looking at solutions that put their money where their mouths are.

To get started, ask these questions about every solution you consider:

  • Is the product built on a strong, research-based foundation?
  • Where are the humans? Are they involved in design and support, or is everything automated? Were algorithms trained and supervised by experts, or kickstarted from a set of prebaked rules and left to their own devices?
  • How does the vendor measure the success of their solution? Ask for performance data and case studies, and look for quantifiable results—not just glowing hyperbole.

For a complete primer on weeding out the companies using flashy tools to make empty promises, we recommend reading our recent post about finding tech you can trust.

See It in Action

Once you’ve found a solution that meets your criteria and passes the “smell test,” don’t be afraid to ask the vendor to show you how it works in a live demo or to connect you with references you can interview about its functionality and effectiveness. If the offering is everything they say it is, they’ll surely have some happy customers willing to sing its praises. And if the product isn’t the dream you’d hoped it would be, better to find out now than once you’ve invested significant time and money into it.

The edtech market is a crowded place, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the snazzy features and marketing spin. But if you work with your team to identify the problems facing your institution and create a thoughtful, intentional plan, your search for a solution will be much more fruitful.