By Katie Ford
There has been no shortage of opinions about the mission ahead of Microsoft’s next CEO since Steve Ballmer’s announcement that he plans to retire within the year. In last Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, former General Motors vice chairman Bob Lutz’s observation about the consequences of “analyzing the past to see where the world had already gone, as opposed to trusting people who have the instincts about where it’s going to be in three years” caught my attention for its relevance to education technology marketing. I’m also seeing increasing parallels between the tech transformation happening in the auto industry to those in education, but more on that later.
I’ve spent the last few years focused intently on the dramatic changes happening in K-12 education, largely driven by mobile technology adoption. Many of the people I’ve encountered have predicted tablet backlash, pooh-poohed the notion that teachers would increase their influence on tech purchasing decisions and noted the roadblocks presented by the near monopoly maintained by Pearson and a few other players. In April, Erin Griffith of Pando Daily doubled-down on her assertion that bottom-up marketing just doesn’t work in education.
These assertions are grounded in historical truths, and yet I advise many ed tech companies–particularly those that deliver content or tools designed to be used directly by teachers or students–to begin the process of ignoring this advice. If your product or service could be delivered as an app on a mobile device, it is only a matter of time before it will be.
The adoption rates of tablets in schools have been rapid and show no signs of slowing down. In 2009, the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future predicted that half of all teachers will hit retirement age by 2019. The teachers who replace them will have grown up with access to tens of thousands of apps customized to very specific needs. Do we really expect them to accept a one-size-fits-all approach in the classroom?
Will this happen overnight? No. Is this already changing the way districts think about teachers’ role in the purchasing process? Yes.
We’ve already transitioned from ed-tech decisions made by the CIO/CTO to a model in many districts in which the chief curriculum officer has as much, if not more, decision making authority. In some districts that have adopted tablets, school-based technology committees decide which apps teachers will have to choose from. We are hearing about iPad districts giving teachers iTunes gift cards to test drive apps and make recommendations for purchase back to the administration.
In the future–let’s say, three years out–there will still be premium bundled offerings purchased by chief technology or curriculum officers, but it is hard to imagine them standing alone in the classroom. It is also hard to imagine those premium products being purchased without having to make it through some sort of teacher approval gauntlet.
So, if you are a company that builds tools for teachers, now is the time to start developing your strategy for how to communicate directly with them. Take a hard look at your website–would your child’s teacher understand and be excited by what you are selling? Do you know what motivates teachers to use one solution v. another? Do you know who they are most influenced by?
Trust the past as a guide for what you will encounter this year and maybe next. Change happens slowly in education, but three years is a lifetime in technology. Close your eyes to the new customers emerging for ed tech–largely driven by tablet adoption–and you will soon find yourself deploying marketing solutions for yesterday’s problems.
What’s another emerging audience for ed-tech? Parents. Vote for our SXSWedu panel Data Privacy: What Parents DON’T Know Can Hurt You to learn more.