5 Levers that can unlock smarter demand for education technology

Christensen Institute
Julia Freeland Fisher
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When Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn published Disrupting Class in 2008, the current wave of education technology was still finding its footing. The book posited two predictions. First, online learning would grow rapidly in K-12 schools. But scale was not the endgame. Second, and arguably more crucial, was the opportunity ahead: with the right incentives in place, technology could scale with an eye toward optimizing for individual learners’ academic outcomes.

Fast forward a decade. The edtech industry has arguably seen what TechCrunch’s Mike Butcher aptly called a number of “false dawns.” Although investments in online and blended tools grew steadily over the years, they did not always bear fruit. This stems in part from how we’ve defined success in the market. Although technology could unlock better outcomes, that depends in large part on what schools demand of it.

When procurement decisions focus too heavily on inputs like enrolling students in online courses or filling tutoring time, it’s hardly surprising to find tools merely providing cheaper seat-time-based learning models. Pockets of the market, such as credit recovery, have largely fallen victim to this trend. Moreover, even if schools want to focus on learning outcomes, they may be purchasing tools blindly when little to no efficacy data exists to inform their decisions.

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