Advice on creating something that truly influences the edtech world.
GUEST COLUMN | by David Tobin
The challenge facing students, parents and educators when it comes to technology is, where to begin? It seems as though there is a never-ending supply of great miracle applications and devices that will magically cure the education innovation drought we have been facing — but is that just a sales pitch?
With its advance, technology has become available to almost every demographic in education. The way we digest it has also become new and exciting. The stimulation provided by these new options hints at an advent in the right way, however, most become a fad and aren’t used by teachers regularly.
Make our lives easier with this new technology. We want to use it, but we don’t have time to learn something new.
There is a learning curve, not just for students, but for teachers as well. The goal is to not only find things that stimulate the mind, but that (more importantly) can be regular tools that students can grow with from year to year. It’s about taking the medium in which they learn and making it exist with fundamental ideals intact, and offering flexibility to drift from subject to subject.
Not all options out there will work. They require too much of a learning curve and that means time — the one thing teachers don’t have. So, this new batch of solutions to hit the market need to address a simple tact for classroom adoption.
The goal of any edtech designer should be to play off what already exists in the classroom, or what is native to those in it from their outside life. Think very basic actions that we do everyday: watching TV, hitting play on a music device or video player, writing a note on a post-it, making a phone call, or even texting someone.
The above suggestions should play into the functionality of the device. This root look at the problem of tech makes everything easier to digest. If you’re trying to have a teacher or student learn how to operate a new device or if it has too many steps in it, you’re already at a disadvantage. Students tune out fast and teachers are a close second in a world that has a lot to do in a very short time.
By taking the basics and creating a functional delivery system around them, you’ve already taken a huge step toward getting the classroom on your side. The content is a whole other issue, but we need to focus on user experience as innovators. If you can create a product that has a short learning curve and does the job of another section of class but increases performance and takes less time — you’re in. That’s it.
After speaking with hundreds of educators all over the world, we keep hearing the same thing: “Make our lives easier with this new technology. We want to use it, but we don’t have time to learn something new.” That right there — those simple two sentences — should be what keeps you up at night when creating educational products.
The other thing to keep in mind is that educators are wary of the ‘too good to be true’ pitch. If you come in claiming you’ve created the one thing that’s going to “change the classroom”… well, you better have proved it with thousands of repeat users. Teachers aren’t gullible, they’ve been hearing this promise for years, and only a few things have truly impacted learning over this time.
Test the product until you think you’ve gotten as much data as you need, then test it some more. Test it against variables that should never be a factor, use it with people who would never use it, then slowly bring it into the schools. If the product is solid, it will get purchased. That’s the bottom line. And if it gets bought by a few, that will grow to many.
Word of mouth is the best weapon other than a great product any educational innovator can have. When the day is done, teachers vent to other teachers and they are a tight group. If you have something that makes their day easier and gets great results, they will tell others, and in turn — you will see wide adoption.
Creating a big sales push should come much later. Not until you know you have a solid stake in several markets around the country do you put the weight of your sales team behind the product. The sales force needs to be stoking the excitement already created by word of mouth. There are too many educators to pitch a product to, to expect them all to have time to try it and agree it’s solid.
You may be thinking, ‘Well, I will pitch to the head of the school or department head and go from there.’ Well, then you’re looking at selling to someone that is incredibly busy and also apprehensive about forcing an unproven item on an already stressed population. It’s a slow process, but once it heats up, you will get amazing results if it’s a great product.
In the end, it’s all about ease of use and quality. Focus on making the user experience seamless in the hands of students and teachers. Once the delivery system is proven to work with a short learning curve, get some data. Start doing research on the actual results of the program. Solid numbers make it easy for the purchaser to say yes.
Then, after you’re in the mix, monitor your program and let it grow naturally. If it’s going to be a hit, you’ll know. Social media will talk about it and parents will want a version for their own home, and from there, you’ve now created something that has truly influenced the edtech world.
David Tobin is the Founder and CEO of Audiojack.