A Different Take on Technology Adoption in Education

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  • August 16, 2017

Let’s Talk About What K-12 Technology Adoption Really Means

A quick scan of recent education technology headlines will reveal a number of companies announcing that a district has recently adopted their solution.

The intent is to influence districts that are evaluating solutions by showcasing other districts that have made the same decision. However, what these technology adoption announcements fail to showcase is whether these products are used in earnest, with fidelity, and with sustainable consistency. A new decision to purchase or even a recent implementation is only the beginning stages of what both the provider and the district should consider a long-term relationship.

With that in mind, it’s time we talk about what K-12 technology adoption really means. We can start by summarizing at a high level what the overall adoption cycle looks like. In our experience, we see school districts generally take a five step approach to adopting new technologies. Every district is unique and every process is different, but generally speaking, when district’s plan to invest in – and adopt – a new technology, they will take the following steps:

Stages of K-12 Technology Adoption    

  1.     Research
  2.     Pilot
  3.     Selection
  4.     Implementation
  5.     Analytics

Notice that the word Adoption is not a stage or a step in this process. Instead, it’s the end-goal. It’s the outcome of all the efforts that go into researching, testing, implementation and yes, actually using the product. Any announcement about districts adopting a particular solution is premature in that the solution has yet to prove it has had a meaningful, sustainable impact on that district.

So let’s talk about what goes into appropriately defining technology adoption in education. There are two important lenses through which we should be viewing any technology in education to understand whether it’s actually be adopted.

Utilization: Is the technology integrated into the regular everyday workflow for the stakeholders it is intended to serve?

All too often, the energy that goes into the research, pilot, and selection of technologies fails to carry into long-term use. This stems, in part, from companies that fail to invest in supporting the full lifecycle of a school customer’s experience. And, in part, sustained utilization can fall victim to schools that have too much to do, too many stakeholders to serve, and too few resources to support them.

The implication is that schools need to invest heavily in the research, testing, and selection process. ClassLink, for example, appreciates it when school districts conduct an in-depth review of our platform and take the long view of whether and how it will impact their teachers and students. We’re happy to jump through hoops that others would rather circumnavigate because it means that the school district is prepared to invest in long-term success. And that kind of thinking is right in line with how we operate.

Fidelity: Is the technology being used in the manner in which it was designed and selected?

This concept of fidelity of use is particularly relevant to curriculum companies that are focused squarely on helping students improve learning outcomes in specific subject areas. Whether it’s core or supplemental materials, intervention or accelerated learning resources, providers know that the impact of their products is tied closely to the fidelity with which schools use them.

That being said, however, fidelity of use is a challenge for many schools simply because using these products is a challenge. If a reading intervention product requires each student to use it 20 minutes every day, that’s not always easy. What happens in situations where students don’t have ready access to a device that accommodates the product? What happens when 5 of the allotted 20 minutes is consumed by password resets or other access issues?

What happens is that schools start to question the product’s value. Providers get frustrated because the products, most of which are indeed quite good, are not having the desired impact. And ultimately, relationships between the two start to get strained.

Interestingly, since we serve as a gateway for teachers and students to access their digital learning resources, we have the ability to help districts understand the extent to which products are being utilized. Through myriad conversations with our school district clients, we’ve come to understand the importance of technology and instructional leaders understanding what’s being used, by whom, and with what regularity.

Simply stated, if a product has been offered to education stakeholders but is not being used, district leaders have to learn why.

  • Did the product suffer from overcrowding priorities?
  • Was there enough training during the implementation phase?
  • How did we miss the drop-off in use such that we’re questioning its value?

These questions, and more, come into play when school districts hold technology adoption to a higher standard. And these questions are ones that providers will need to answer early and often if they want to get the word out about their products. ClassLink counts itself among those companies that need to continuously work towards meaningful adoption by its customers.

We, the technology and digital learning providers of education, achieve genuine adoption by delivering a product that’s easy to use, implemented with efficacy, and fully supported.

The user experience is key to utilization. Schools recognize this and providers have been working to innovate not simply to solve complex issues, but to deliver a simple path in helping teachers and students solve them together.

Providers must deliver an implementation process that is clear, consistent, and contains few surprises. Whether it’s avoiding unexpected fees that force districts to pause or being inflexible in the protocols used to make access easier, providers must be wary of introducing complexity into the digital learning implementation process. There’s nothing so disruptive to technology adoption than a failed installation.

Finally, one of the key reasons a school genuinely adopts a product is that it is fully supported. ClassLink, for example, will respond to calls from technology teams, instructional leaders, teachers, students, and parents. Ours is not to reason why a stakeholder is having an issue, but to find a solution. The same holds true for all providers that want to move beyond the purchase phase and ensure that their products are actually improving learning outcomes. Otherwise, what’s the point of doing this at all?

We invite you to see case studies that demonstrate how ClassLink has been adopted by districts around the country.

Jim McVety is VP of Marketing and Business Development at ClassLink. He is motivated by the energy and goodwill expressed by the schools we work with, from small rural districts to large urban. Together we’re improving teacher and student access to digital learning resources.