A decision-maker should not hesitate to reach out to their nationwide network of peers to get honest feedback on edtech tools, even with data

Here’s why anecdotes are as important as data in edtech decisions


A decision-maker should not hesitate to reach out to their nationwide network of peers to get honest, unfettered feedback

Key points:

From the moment they first set up shop centuries ago, businesses have depended on word-of-mouth to build their customer base–and today, word-of-mouth marketing is still the main driver of sales.

Ninety percent of consumers are more likely to trust a brand recommended by friends and influencers, while 46 percent of small businesses make choices regarding software purchases based on the experiences of their colleagues. Yet, when it comes to edtech, the consensus industry-wide is that recommendations from your peers mean nothing when compared to data points.

Don’t get me wrong – efficacy studies are crucial when comparing edtech solutions in the procurement decision process. But when school districts rely solely on them at the expense of anecdotal evidence, the outcomes they see look nothing like the results they were promised. There are three main reasons why this occurs:

  •  Data isn’t always reliable. Edtech evaluation is currently the Wild West. With little to no oversight from government or industry regulators to hold them accountable, companies can ride into town with a new product and lofty claims. As long as they have data-driven results (dressed up with great marketing) gleaned from a couple of schools or focus groups, they have an automatic head start in the decision-making process. Unfortunately, as recently noted, “most educators, meanwhile, don’t have the time to comb through research or the expertise to discern rigor from rubbish.”
  • The data doesn’t align with a district’s reality. There are also some companies that invest heavily in third-party assessments, hoping they will be arbiters of what students know. However, third-party companies who design and facilitate the measurement tools and interpret the results may not take into account the socioeconomic and demographic differences between school districts. They don’t live and breathe the struggles educators face every day. As long as the data aligns with the edtech company’s goals, third-party evaluations can be the strongest selling point for solution providers.
  • Data can be used as a deflection tactic. Even when superintendents and educators are ready to take on new challenges, other district leaders aren’t always on board. They’ll often find a reason to stick with the status quo and avoid the uncomfortable. Over and over, I see districts use data as a deflection. If an edtech provider doesn’t have the research results they’re looking for – no matter how advantageous the solution has been for other schools – districts will easily kill the deal. If they can show positive-growth graphs and increasing test scores, decision-makers don’t have to consider other educational drivers schools put into place to help prime students for success, such as literacy development programs, summer and after-school enrichment programs, or increased social-emotional support.

Change your mindset to better your student outcomes

After years of working directly with edtech companies and superintendents to identify new opportunities for innovation, my biggest advice for both is to work together to drive real change in education. Evidence and research remain relative terms in this business, but collaboration is what sparks great ideas and moves the needle forward.

For instance, a superintendent in St. Louis may have an interest in an edtech solution that was successful for a district in Philadelphia. For many stakeholders who think analytically, the data results are positive proof points that the technology would benefit their students. On the other hand, for those decision-makers who dig deeper and think bigger, no amount of quantitative data would assure them that the technology could be seamlessly integrated into their own district.

These are the individuals who would say – these are good data points, but what proof do we have that teachers liked it? What systems would we need to have in place to ensure we could reasonably implement it? How can it be adapted to our students’ needs? What’s the price point? A decision-maker should not hesitate to reach out to their nationwide network of peers to get honest, unfettered feedback.

In addition, for edtech providers, instead of spending your entire budget on analytical research to meet reporting guidelines, whether for customers or granters, a significant portion of your budget should be allocated to getting into a room with pioneering administrators from across the country, and developing pilot projects they can put into action to boost their students’ achievements. This unmatched feedback – the good and the bad – allows providers to build more effective, robust solutions that have superintendents’ seal of approval and are better able to meet different districts’ needs, all while growing their sales.

Just as districts invest in other initiatives using anecdotal research – from increasing safety measures to discovering new ways to engage with students – edtech purchases can’t be based on analytic data alone. Educators have to count on the experiences of their peers to determine which solution is worth giving a shot in order to improve outcomes for the students they serve.

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