Beyond the hype: How ed-tech can really impact student success

Image Credit: NewSchools

I recently read the Horizon Report – an annual review of trends in education and, technology – and was struck by how some of the promises made by the ed-tech industry were right on target. Others, of course, were off the mark.

Since 2011, ed-tech companies received more than $2 billion in VC funding. But big hype doesn’t always lead to big impact. Though all ed-tech initiatives are aimed at student success, many are underperforming, and it seems like hip and hype, specifically with regard to this goal, are only proven in retrospect.

Hip, hyped and hollow

A year ago “MOOCs” — the buzz phrase for massive open online courses — were being touted as the panacea for student engagement. But this wunderkind has evolved into a passing curio, with recent data to prove it (such as 90 percent of MOOC registrants fail to complete courses).

Big hype, almost big results

And then there’s “big data,” an idea that has had a tremendous amount of hype and indeed some impact. Gathering large data sets to establish trending analyses is appealing to policymakers and organizational decision makers. One example that illustrates this. A recent study correlated big data to conclude that students with high library fines tend to perform worse on tests. Interesting observation… What about the students that never visit the library? And how is this data going to help an individual student on a specific day in a specific class? This example illustrates the constraints of big data in helping individual students.

Think small

I’d like to suggest that we approach the problem in a different manner. Instead of looking for the next big thing, look for the next small thing. We should strive to support students at a local level, and ed-tech companies should take this cue.

Small data matters most to educators and learners, and its use is on the rise — teachers in 35 states now have access to data about students in their classrooms, up from 28 states in 2011. This small data is better positioned to assist educators in the classroom by providing immediate feedback on lesson plans, guidance on individual student progress, demonstrating alignment to, and assisting with many of the normally onerous administrative tasks that are necessary yet operate as overhead for educators, taking their precious time away from teaching.

Big data struggles to tell these stories, preferring instead to explain how large populations of learners might trend toward certain behaviors over time –helpful to chief state school officers, but less useful to an individual learner.

In light of all of this, let’s proclaim 2014 as the year of “thinking small” and see how a departure from “big hype” might help our learners of today.
Read the entire article by Evan Nisonson on VentureBeat at

Horizon Reports from the New Media Consortium can be found at


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