EdTech Efficacy Data in Demand at D.C. Symposium

Spending on educational technology is an expanding global force with a projected growth rate of 17% annually to an astounding $252 billion by the year 2020. In the U.S. alone, we have reached more than 8 billion in annual spending, of which a large percentage is going towards licenses that aren't being used or are significantly underutilized. This booming business has been growing essentially unshaped by verified research and usable data. Last week at the EdTech Efficacy Research Academic Symposium in Washington D.C., the battle cry for quantifying and qualifying the edtech being used in our schools and universities ramped up.

The symposium was hosted by the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, Digital Promise and the Jefferson Education Accelerator. It brought together 275 of the brightest minds in educational technology research; academic researchers, district and university leaders, investors and philanthropists, entrepreneurs and educators, and focused on the development, adoption, implementation and efficacy measures of technology in our schools.

The event hashtag, #ShowTheEvidence, was indicative of the discussion at the symposium. There was a unanimous demand for evidence-based findings for the edtech being used in our schools. Educators, administrators, researchers and policymakers are pushing harder for concrete and actionable data about which technology tools are moving the needle in our schools and which tools are falling short.  

Lea(R)n’s CEO and Co-Founder, Karl Rectanus and Senior Research Officer, Daniel Stanhope participated in the symposium and shared a few key takeaways.

Karl Rectanus

Understanding the Elephant

This event was a solid step toward earning and building trust within the edtech efficacy community. With so many stakeholder groups (researchers, academic, K12, foundations, policy makers, etc.), it’s natural for people to see their “part of the elephant” and have difficulty seeing others’ points of view. The 10-month working group process helped expand the groups of people talking about and understanding the “elephant” that is edtech effectiveness.

Two-fold Systemic EdTech Efficacy Challenges

Complex collective action problems, like systemic edtech efficacy, have two challenges:

  1. The individual incentives do not motivate the effort of individual parties, even though the major outcome is of great benefit for all.

  2. When one part of the complex system rapidly improves, the rest of the system is often unable to handle it. For example, if you could now see in a matter of minutes which edtech tools were working best in your organization, this might throw a wrench in existing budgeting and purchasing, internal politics, professional development or even use of that information. LearnPlatform, for example, has customers that do not want to speak publicly about what they’re learning and the amount of money they are saving because they are afraid stakeholders may believe them to be flush with cash.

Leveraging Existing Solutions

One prominent theme that emerged from a number of the discussions was that the quickest path to progress is leveraging existing technology and efforts, rather than creating new ones out of whole cloth. There is a natural tendency to come out of action meetings with a “wouldn’t it be nice if someone would” and think “we should build that.” Before storming the hill with Braveheart-style fury, I heard a lot of folks discussing what partners and efforts could be leveraged, rather than building something new.


Dr. Stanhope

Demand is Getting More Demanding

One of Lea(R)n’s central tenets has always been to make the demand side more demanding. Multiple representatives of schools and districts attended the symposium and all of them indicated the need for more evidence. They confirmed our stance that schools and districts demand evidence that is practical, actionable, relevant and rigorous.

The Divide Between Research and Practice

Although both sides of the classic gap between research and practice are doing good work for the right reasons, there is often a misalignment between the aims of the work, as well as the incentives and motivations. Efforts like this recent symposium in D.C. and the working groups that led up to it have helped gather both researchers and schools/districts—as well as policymakers, funders and educational entrepreneurs—to discuss outstanding problems and work together to find common solutions. It was mentioned at the beginning of the symposium, and multiple times throughout, that the convening was all about action.

One Platform to Do It All

Over the course of the two-day symposium, a common theme that prevailed from all points around the education ecosystem was the need for a platform that gives schools and districts the ability to collect timely and actionable evidence. In fact, in one of the working sessions, we were given a hypothetical sum of money with the goal of proposing a solution to solve all the issues with edtech. This dream solution was a platform that contained a library of products, crowd-sourced information about the products (e.g., ratings and comments), a means of filtering results by demographics and numerous other variables, and a way to generate practical evidence by facilitating rapid cycle evaluations, which sounded eerily familiar to what we have created at Lea(R)n. These concepts are all components of LearnPlatform that address the exact challenges I heard time and time again at the symposium. It was affirming to hear that our approach is directly addressing real and pressing needs educators and administrators are facing with edtech efficacy in classrooms.

Thank you to the Jefferson Education Accelerator, the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, and Digital Promise for putting together this educational and productive symposium. To learn more about your edtech efficacy, see what an IMPACT Analysis could do for your organization.