The edtech world is a fast paced and ever-changing landscape, burgeoning with new ideas, new technologies and even new philosophies on how we can inspire the next generation of learners. The past 8 years was a mad dash to find the answer to the edtech need and the apathetic learner problem... the ed-space became the 21st century gold rush.
Many edtech companies found themselves at the crossroads of innovation and survival. Where some apps found their niche (striking gold); others fizzled off and are now beginning to see the door of opportunity closing on their once great idea. Where will the new frontier take us? What innovations can people actually afford? How do we get our tech or apps into the hands of as many young learners as possible? As the dust begins to settle, what can every stakeholder learn from this decade of education technology to take with us into the next 10-15 years.
As a parent who believes in edtech and a person employed by the industry, I salivate at the infinite capacity of personalized learning yet cower before the reality of our infrastructure constraints and the inequity of hardware distribution. I am fortunate to have children who've used iPads since the first generation iPad was released into the wild but I know this is not the norm. All this is to say, that I believe in the power of apps. I have felt the brunt of crappy apps and I've seen the potential of what really awesome apps can provide youngsters.
When we try an app we know right away if the in app purchases are necessary and worthwhile or not. We know from looking over the app if it's worth $.99, $3.99 or more. From our personal experience, there are a couple areas where edtech companies fail us all:
Using traditional rhetoric in aggrandized but meaningless ways:
- Apps are clunky and look cool, but end up really boring and teaching you NOTHING
- Apps have no pedagogical backing and aren't even at least fun
- Apps aren't age appropriate for cognitive ability
- Apps crash all the time even when updated; or especially when updated
- Apps attempt to accomplish too much
- Apps aren't age appropriate for dexterity/motor ability
- Apps have too many pathways to stuff
- Here's a tangible example of this: There was a time when the iPad 2 was out and the new operating system was all the rage but a lot of people still had an iPad 1 and most of the new apps catered to the iPad 2 operating system, which was problematic because most parents let their kids use the older tech which meant that devs were missing out on A LOT of potential users.
One morning, while working from home, I noticed it was very quiet all around me. I was actually getting a huge bulk of work completed. When I looked up each kid was 1:1 with their iPads, but they weren't playing with cake pop makers or beauty and fashion dress up games, they were hard at work on math... was I seeing things? No, no I wasn't. So I asked, "What game are you playing?". Without even looking up they said in unison, "Todo Math". I decided this must be shared on social media, so I went to our blog Twitter and gave a shoutout to @TodoMath. They had to know how happy I was with their product (I love giving props to good companies on Twitter). What happened next let me know that this company actually cared about creating a quality experience for their users. They contacted us right away about the tweet and asked me for an interview.
I spent a good while speaking with their awesome representative about technology, parenting, how we beat summer slide, how we utilize technology in our home and a myriad of other topics. As an edtech aficionado, parent, and career person, I really appreciated the opportunity to share the aspects of this great tool that benefited my children's learning styles. I also appreciated the opportunity to share areas we found that were ripe for improvement. It felt like I was more than a consumer; I became a joint stakeholder in my child's education through this communicative effort.
Please take a moment to check out the interview and the Parent Spotlight on the Todo Math webpage."Parent Spotlight: How One Family Uses Todo Math for Learning at Home"
So... Devs... listen to your users. We are using your stuff. We know if it sucks or if it rocks. We want your stuff to work because honestly, we need a break from our kids. We want them to learn too... Parents and teachers are using your tools with their children for many reasons. It's important that you investigate why. Don't just read the reviews on the app store, actually reach out and gather cases and user stories. Hear the good, the bad and the ugly and figure out how you can implement this feedback into your updates and resource offerings. In the coming 10-15 years I think the apps and tech that will be set apart from the rest will separate themselves because of their user experience... because ultimately tools can't be effective without users.