We’re Getting Better at This EdTech Thing

During the last century and the beginning of this one — in the waning years of politicians sometimes being called “statesmen” — I remember a particular “down east” North Carolina politician responding to complaints and concerns of constituents with the following statement... Though he’d often attribute the bromide as “somethin’ daddy used to say,” I always got the sense that it was a turn of phrase that he came up with, and enjoyed saying himself.  

When confronted by the realities, complexities and systemic challenges of change in the modern world, he’d counsel questioners and friends alike, by reminding them:

We ain’t as good as we wanna be. We ain’t as good as we gonna be. But we’re a damn sight better than we was.

So authentic, with honor for the efforts to date, but infused with hope for improvement. In the parlance of today’s educators, this might be called “the growth mindset.” Or perhaps “tough love.”   

The fact is, that’s where we are in the world of education technology, and the data shows it.  

Since 2014, the Lea(R)n team has been committed to expanding equitable access for all students to the technologies that work best for them. We believe, like so many others, that results should matter — because when student results matter, purchasing, policy and practice start to conspire to help all kids succeed. As a research-driven organization and a technology company, we let the data tell us how the world is progressing. The data is good.

In 2015, as our clients analyzed key edtech products across their organizations, we discovered something important. To figure out what products work best for students, knowing what products are used (and how much) is a critical, often overlooked, first step. LearnPlatform equips educators and administrators with a single, comprehensive system to organize, streamline and rapidly analyze all aspects of their edtech. And, as more than 2,000 schools, districts, networks, states and universities use LearnPlatform to manage and measure their edtech use (along with it’s impact on student learning), the data showed there was a frightening similarity in the extent to which key tools were used.  

As the 2015 infographic and research brief showed, only a very small percentage (five percent) of paid student licenses for core curricular edtech products were being used to fidelity (the amount recommended to get results). Moreover, north of 65 percent of the paid student licenses were NOT used. Regardless of the student outcomes, impact and causes, the former school CFO in me begs to know what else we could do with all the dollars spent on so many unused licenses.

Our team has been both lauded and lambasted for revealing one of the worst kept secrets in edtech. But, in this authentic, data-driven clarity (six products analyzed, across 27,000 students, across almost 100 schools in multiple states), we set the foundation for understanding the industry’s growth, opportunity and promise.

Fast forward to 2017, and as the numbers come in, our statesman’s hopeful guidance echoes in my head. To paraphrase, EdTech ain't as good as we want it to be. EdTech ain't as good as it’s gonna be. But it’s a damn sight better than it was.

This week, we shared an infographic highlighting the depth to which those same types of edtech products are and have been used during the past year, by schools and districts in multiple states and across 36,000 students.

The major takeaways for me are:

  • Edtech tools are being used more deeply than before — almost doubling the fidelity rate from 5 percent to 9 percent.

  • There are more tools in use with more districts and states analyzing core curricular content products — we’ll share another report on the proliferation and breadth of edtech tools (look for the EdTech Top 40 in a few weeks).

  • The cost efficiency of districts and their product partners is improving, with EdTech Price Index (EPI) dropping from $2.71 for every $1 spent on curricular tools, to $2.44 in 2017.

The trend is heading in the right direction. And, while I do believe simply highlighting a challenge to begin to address it is important, there are other trends we see that are making an impact in the last 12-24 months that could be key factors in driving the increased utilization.  

  1. Districts are improving their implementation process by focusing more effectively on examining and reallocating resources to provide appropriate professional development, support and materials in order to drive a more holistically successful program implementation.

  2. States are moving towards a policy-led requirement for documenting and demonstrating fidelity.

  3. Education organizations are working to personalize goals for edtech use in order to redefine fidelity.

  4. Increased broadband access has given a greater number of students adequate internet connectivity.

So, we provide this data for you to interpret as you see fit. But, from where we sit, it sure looks like US schools and their product providers are all getting better at this edtech thing, and that’s good for students, outcomes and budgets.  

If you’d like to learn more about the breadth, depth or IMPACT of your edtech, or just want to get control of your edtech, let us know.  

Karl Rectanus