Friendly Advice To The Hottest EdTech Startups That Will 'Revolutionize Education' Any Day Now
“[Don't] Hold Your Breath” by dion gillard is licensed under CC BY 2.0

What would the EdTech world look like without TORSH, Clever, 4.0 Schools, Nimble, or Peergrade? Chances are it’s not so different and you are already looking at it right now.

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Time and again, promising startups that will “change the education playing field” are on display. But from what we’ve seen so far, it doesn’t matter if they have the most reputable partners behind them, they all will most likely fall short on their promise. What is worse, the likely cause of failure does not seem to be new. Take a look at some of these painfully common reasons for failure. I’d love to tell you the lesson has been learned, but…

Speak to a teacher first. At least one.

And no, education specialists who haven’t taught a day in their life do not count. Sana Labs, a company that “utilizes artificial intelligence to closely personalize content to the needs of each student,” recruited “NASA and Cornell University experts.” Not one word in their press releases, media coverage, or on their own website mentions the words “teacher” or “instructor.” There’s still hope the 21-year old founder, Joel Hellermark, from Sweden comes around, but nothing yet.

If you did speak to a teacher, that’s wonderful, just don’t assume you’ve spoken with them all.

The contexts in which teachers work differ widely, with income and geography being just some of the most obvious variables. Even within schools of the same type, there are significant differences, as best exemplified by ideas targeting charter and “cyber charter” schools, a tale of success according to Betsy DeVos and no one else.

If you are going to reinvent the wheel, try choosing a solution with some evidence behind it.

Astounding results in the field of personalized learning kicked off Facebook’s (er, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s) series of multi-million dollar investments in EdTech startups. Who would have thunk? Actually, almost anyone involved in the field since the 1980s. It turns out, the research quoted by the Initiative has been thoroughly debunked over and over. Yes, personalization is promising, but the finer details, like a robust body of evidence, matter.

Don’t count on faculty’s time, energy, or good vibes.

Surely your product will optimize teacher time and make it super productive… once they complete your product training, right? Adams schools in Colorado found this out the hard way. When asked about the decision to scale back a “groundbreaking” bilingual literacy program, a representative attributed it, in part, to the teacher’s lack of patience.

Partner with a Microsoft type at your own peril…

Issuing a press release with your products name right next to the tech giant of the day might sound like great backing (and truthfully, sometimes it is,) but these endorsements do not come cheap. Just ask Boxlight. Furthermore, do not assume the tech giant will refrain from partnering with anyone else, including your direct competitor.

…and if you are one of them, don’t think these rules don’t apply to you.

Google can certainly deploy vast resources quicker than anyone, but somehow this has not led to domination in every education area they’ve entered. Perhaps with the exception of chromebooks, Google still has far to go in virtually every field, from VR to Zendaya-aided computer science advocacy and, of course, LMS. At the end of the day, education is a social and human discipline, and teachers might not be rendered obsolete by robots just yet.

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