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Designing custom ed-tech software requires joint effort

Clayton Christensen Institute examines innovative school system-vendor partnership

Off-the-shelf education technology platforms can often fall short when aligning with educators’ specific approaches to instruction. As a result, many school systems take matters into their own hands by developing custom software and tools only to find they lack the scale, revenue sources and expertise to do so successfully.

In a new study, the Clayton Christensen Institute profiles two organizations that co-designed technology to help school leaders bridge the disconnect between instructional models and new technologies.

“Connecting Ed & Tech: Partnering to drive student outcomes” examines a unique collaboration between Leadership Public Schools (LPS), a charter school management organization that operates three high schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Gooru, a nonprofit ed-tech company. Each organization had separate yet related issues – LPS needed more robust technology to support a new blended learning program at scale, while Gooru needed a school partner to help align its technology with specific classroom use cases. Rather than developing solutions independently, LPS and Gooru merged their teams to collaboratively design a tool that has already shown positive learning results for LPS students.

“Partnerships between technology companies and schools are critical for developing instructional models, but it’s important to realize that LPS and Gooru were successful because they created something much more collaborative and tight knit than a traditional partnership,” says author Thomas Arnett, an education researcher at the Institute. “These organizations formed an integrated team for testing and validating designs quickly and cost-effectively – a true collaboration between users and producers.”

LPS and Gooru also saw success because their business models and revenue sources shared a common motivator – their goals were rooted in impact instead of growth. While many vendors and venture capitalists focus on rapidly growing a user base and quickly scaling adoption, LPS and Gooru were united in prioritizing proven impact on student outcomes.

“Schools, technology vendors and entrepreneurs must ask themselves a simple question – what does your funding motivate you to do?” says Arnett. “If you align your funding with impact, you are better positioned to design systems that support teacher-led instruction.”

The full study can be found on the Christensen Institute website at

The Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation is a research organization dedicated to improving the world through disruptive innovation. Founded on the theories of Harvard professor Clayton M. Christensen, the Institute offers a unique framework for addressing many of society’s most pressing issues.


Laura Ascione

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