Choose Your EdTech Providers Carefully with These Five Questions

By Junaid Mubeen, PhD
It is decision time for educators. As the new academic year looms large, teachers and school administrators can expect to be bombarded with the latest EdTech products.
Promises abound of how these shiny new innovations support lesson planning, enrich instruction and raise achievement (often all at once). Before setting your purse strings loose, you take pause to consult your product selection criteria. Keep in mind, however, that your most important choice lies not with the product itself, but with the solution provider.
When you purchase an EdTech product, you are entering into a partnership (formal or otherwise) with the company behind it. The form and content of your chosen product certainly matters, but it is your relationship with the solution provider that will determine educational impact. They are the ones at the other end of a phone call (or not) when things go awry – and let’s face it: in Edtech, that’s often the way it goes.
EdTech companies must not be exempt from your scrutiny; indeed, they are most deserving of it. Here are five questions you should ask yourself – and your prospective partners – as you seek out your latest EdTech solutions.
1. Do they share your educational values and beliefs?
Digital products evolve at a frantic pace. The product you purchase today may undergo significant changes over the next few months. How can you be sure the product will continue to serve your needs?
A good starting point is to identify your prospective partner’s educational values and beliefs. If they do not align with your own, you run the risk of signing up to a product that diverges from your core needs. You should ensure that matters of curriculum and pedagogy drive your conversations right from the beginning and that your relationship with your prospective partner is a collaboration built around a shared educational vision. 
2. Do they offer product training or professional development?
Any new product requires some initial onboarding effort, but if the company offers excessive training on how to use its features, you should be alarmed. It means the product is not intuitive enough and, even more importantly, it may suggest company does not have any depth of insight to offer.
Your customer support managers should also be your educational advisors, helping you understand how your interactions with the product translate into educational value. They should offer you insights that guide your professional development as an educator and help you develop an understanding of EdTech that goes beyond the specific tools you are using. Alongside the product itself, scope out the Customer Service team, because they hold they key to a successful implementation.
3. Does their research collateral represent thought leadership or marketing spin?
The EdTech space is drenched in fanciful marketing language. If you judge a company’s collateral by its style and tone, their copywriters will win the day. Go beyond the straplines and dig deep into the educational claims. Play with the product and evaluate if the underlying pedagogy reflects what you have read in the White Papers. Pass the efficacy studies by a data expert to see if they hold up to standards of statistical rigour. Do not be afraid to ask your prospective partner what sets their approach apart from their competitors; look out for rehearsed responses.
4. How sensitive are they to your individual needs?
We live in the era of the individual, where products cater to our personal needs and preferences. The same promises will likely be made by your prospective EdTech partner – expect to hear about adaptivity, customizability and any other synonym that has reached the lexicon.
The reality, however, is that EdTech companies need to scale, which often means standardizing their offering. Consider how sensitive your prospective partner is to the individual challenges and circumstances of your learning environment. How flexible is their implementation model, and what cost does this incur? Do not submit to technological forms of one-size-fits-all.
5. What do your colleagues have to say about them?
You should always be wary of company testimonials. Instead, tap into your professional learning network and find other educators who have worked with the same company (maybe even with a different product). Do your colleagues’ experiences marry up with the success stories put forth by your prospective partner? Gather as much feedback as you can on the working relationship between your colleagues and your prospective partner, and what bearing – if any – that had on their purchasing, renewal and cancellation decisions.

Parting Thoughts: Ed Before Tech

EdTech companies come in two flavors. There are genuine Education companies who are driven by a vision for learning and teaching that is agnostic to their tools of choice. They recognise the power of technology to serve their educational goals, but are not governed by it. They are the partners you deserve. Then there are the Technology first companies who have opportunistically seized upon Education as a medium through which to disseminate their innovations. Do not fall prey to them.
 The questions above may make you feel like you’re choosing a prospective spouse rather than an EdTech solution. There are worse metaphors; the stakes may be just as high. There is nothing more frustrating than buying into a product, only to be let down by poor quality service that fails to meet your educational needs. You are buying into the company by default, so ensure you have a well-defined criteria for selecting them too.
You are buying into the company by default, so ensure you have well-defined criteria for selecting them too.
Junaid Mubeen is Head of Product at Whizz Education. Follow him on Twitter: @fjmubeen
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