Why Ed-Tech Reps are Not Selling

An insider view of the education market for educators and vendors
LeiLani Cauthen, CEO & Publisher

Wait a minute, let’s take a moment to breath and talk about what’s happening out there in schools and districts for ed-tech purchasing that you have to see to believe. The Learning Counsel has been out to Washington, D.C., San Antonio, Seattle, Charlotte, Atlanta and Memphis since November.  While I set here stuck in “marine fog” gridlock in the San Diego airport, here I am with an hour to breath and tell all of you what is going down.

In every city we are in, we have the best-of-the-best for Chief Academic Officers, Chief Innovation Officers, Tech Directors, Instructional Technologists, Superintendents and various subject-leader teachers who are making decisions about their tech transition. From the introductory market briefing to the special leadership workshops on digital curriculum evaluation, we hear a lot about what’s happening in schools that we’re sure no one else does.  

We can’t tell on any one district or school, but wow, there are some big plans in the works.  And some real strains on Board Members and the like. To characterize the mood shift from 2015 to 2017, I can say that these wonderfully earnest people have moved as a body from a sort of casual interest, running various software pilots for over-achieving techno-teachers and a lot of professional development for devices, to the dedicated glare of an all-out battle.

Related Video: Executives Speak Out about Digital Curriculum Discussions

The “tech shift” has gone from a nice and polite and rather neat activity on the side to a gritty determination to nail it. There is a big difference today, compared to a couple years ago, in what they will pay attention to and how quickly they will stop listening if you’re off the mark. 

And it is a war out there now. This is not your Daddy’s Ed-Tech market, folks. Not by a long-shot.

Basically, we are seeing a vast destabilization of the management continuity of operations across the education market. There is a national perfect storm of failure for school top officers that is causing them to be harder to reach for industry reps and even fellow educators than ever before. 

The storm consists of:

  • More attrition of teachers and administrators than ever before, both to retirements and just quitting, 
  • More loss of students to alternative modes of education than ever before,
  • More political pressure than ever to perform, more tests and policy change,
  • Having to do more with less budget, and
  • A mismanagement of the transition to digital curriculum resulting in a hodge-podge of practices, some areas of teaching still on paper, some on digital, with most assets disjointedly used without fidelity. 

It’s a Nationwide Mad-House

Senior-most executives are getting yanked into rushed meetings and fast reorganizations that we hear about in every city – big districts and small systems alike.  Others have a host of new top officers who are of the “rip it up and replace it” mind. We’ve even had some schools say they were “just not going to go digital—ever.”  (Like wow, what do you say to that?)

The education leaders we see city-by-city are, on average, deadly serious about better execution of digital.  This mood of high attention on quality execution is a tangible one, thick with emotional discussion, and beyond “product” and into systematic adaptations of the technical environment to suit a vision.  A “total content solution” by publishers seems to be a turn off, since educators are overwhelmed with offerings from so many thousands of vendors and are aware that they already have one-offs from numerous publishers and free-open-educational-resources throughout their organizations. They are aware that in buying a “total solution” they will be over-duplicating some islands of use of other resources, so the mixing and matching is important. 

Related Article: Organizing Your Digital Curriculum Options

The market is, in fact, dissolving into mostly atomized and discrete bits of learning objects, increasingly.  Additionally, schools want to know if a software product is any good from a depth of inquiry the industry just haven’t been very lucid at expressing so far.  Many reps do not even know what development platform their software is built on, or anything about the integrations protocols. 

The exception to the sour notes appears to be Classlink, which is single-handedly sweeping through the national market with a single sign-on solution that practically everyone is buying. 

The actual structure of teaching and learning, how tech transforms the schedule of the day and the human interactions, and not just what buttons to push, is what seems to have absorbed the attention of educators.  They are coming up with various solutions from a teacher-centric view, others from a student-centric view, and yet others from an organizational central system view.  Each of these maintains the norm of institutional structure or shakes it up.  It depends on what sort of urgency that institution is operating in now.  Is it under heavy fire?  Does it perceive it will last for another millennium autonomously using whatever it will for technology in its own special recipe?  

I have said before and will say it again – this market of U.S. K-12 education professionals, as an average, just face-planted into the issue of the software side of sustainable education change in tech transition.  It is not a simple change.  It may very well be the most important moment.

2017 is already a year of unprecedented market confusion, as the Learning Counsel had predicted. 

In Summary

If you are an educator, we’ll show you the road out at our Digital Curriculum Sustainability Discussion events.  Just attend. 

If you’re part of the industry of publishers and manufacturers, now is the time to act with a new kind of marketing, and excellent execution. Do not hide behind the “well it worked before” mantra of what you did to succeed in 2015 or 2016.  It probably isn’t working anymore.  It might be your product needs some tweaks. It also might be that your model of reaching the right people just blew up. In just under a year, a clear majority of schools and districts have reigned in power centrally and effectively ruined the ever-popular just-sell-to-teachers model.  

Get with the new groove.

LeiLani is well versed in the digital content universe, software development, the adoption process, school coverage models, and helping define this century’s real change to teaching and learning. She is the author of the newly released book, The Consumerization of Learning.

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