Educators’ Technology Literacy: A Barrier & An Opportunity
- How EdTech founders can identify and overcome literacy challenges in their target audiences
- Why this stage of post-pandemic funding can lead to an opportunity to turn these barriers into benefits
EdTech founders can work hard to create the "perfect" product or service, but sometimes forget one essential hurdle—their target audience’s technology literacy levels, and barriers. Educators themselves are navigating a difficult landscape post-pandemic peak, and have significant obstacles to accessing, understanding, and adopting technology.
These barriers range from personal and internal concerns, to organizational and institutional barriers, and even environmental barriers. Meanwhile, EdTech tool access has tripled, which is both an opportunity and a problem for EdTech founders, and their clients.
Here’s how industry leaders can determine which barriers are impacting their clients, and how they might impact potential growth opportunity prioritization within the company, along with mergers and acquisitions.
Lack of reliable tech and tech support
While an EdTech company might have the most innovative and helpful new tool available, it won’t translate to success for clients if they have limitations to high-speed internet connections, and other technology issues schools still face. Though the pandemic expedited access to better internet, it remains a significant problem for some areas.
Even post-lockdown, almost half of schools still report having to support students by providing internet to them for learning outside of school. President Joe Biden, in a recent speech, discussed the issue of 24 million American households still lacking internet, a number that impacts educators’ ability to collaborate using EdTech tools off campus. The U.S. Office of Educational Technology calls this "digital redlining," and says that rural areas, Tribal lands, and cities are especially vulnerable. EdTech leaders looking to work with clients in these areas should account for these barriers in their product or service rollout, realizing that internet access should be prioritized and understood thoroughly before pitching products to underserved areas.
Educators navigating red tape in tech decision making
Even if an educator has concluded an EdTech tool is ideal for their classroom or building, they might not have the final say in what can be a long process for approval and integration. Varying levels of technology literacy at all aspects of IT staff, administration, and educators can prove to be additional barriers, taking time and resources to overcome.
EdTech leaders can determine their point of entry within a district by first understanding and then maneuvering to the highest possible level of decision-makers before spending time engaging potential clients. As EdTech founders determine potential risks, rewards, and future mergers and acquisitions, they can engage in conversations with customers over the most important EdTech tools that will carry them well into the future. This ensures they are communicating their value to move through various levels of red tape in districts.
The changing landscape of pandemic funding
The pandemic changed the game for districts’ access to funding for additional technology support, including many EdTech tools to enable digital and hybrid learning models. The government’s release of "Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund" (ESSER) money as part of a pandemic relief plan allowed increased support of digital programs and tools, benefitting EdTech founders. But some ESSER funds must be spent by September 2023, and others by September 2024, causing districts to zero in on EdTech tools they want to prioritize before the deadline.
Consequently, districts are having to make tough decisions, using the level of technology literacy each possesses, and some level of prediction on what they might need going forward. These circumstances mean EdTech leaders have the opportunity and necessity to prove to districts that their tool is not only essential, but irreplaceable both now and in the future.
EdTech overwhelm and burnout
In the pandemic, educators were inundated with tech options to solve pressing problems—so much so, that some opted out completely, in favor of tried and true practices that had served long-time educators well in the past. The teacher population is aging as well—60% of educators are over age 40. This can be a barrier for EdTech companies when it comes to their technology literacy, and willingness to learn new tools, as research points to decreased confidence and an increased need for support with technology for older populations.
Nearly half of teachers report workplace burnout, so approaching educators with additional asks (such as learning new technology) when they are already in an industry struggling with recruitment and retention, can spell disaster. Educators’ limited bandwidth to learn more, and do more, is evident in the increased availability of tools that aren’t matching integration rates. For example, in one study analyzing barriers to integrating game-based learning tools in classrooms, teacher cited not enough training among other barriers for full integration.
EdTech leaders have an opportunity amidst this overwhelm and exhaustion to create and market products as seamless to integrate, and to boast their supportive role in adoption that they’ll play for years to come in collaboration with the district. Districts that don’t address this need, and ignore the landscape in education, are more susceptible to acquisitions and ultimate collapse.
Steps EdTech founders should take now
Given extensive challenges in educators’ tech literacy, founders must take action to mitigate risks now. These include:
- Be available and involved as districts determine their "mission critical" tools for the remainder of ESSER spending, while proving the product or service is a longer-term funding need to seal an ongoing relationship
- Adapt sales cycles to new looming funding deadlines
- Prove necessary tools and services will increase efficiency for burnt-out educators, especially administrators who continue to need administrative software
- Own the burden of educating districts on the necessity of your product or service, and how it will help in times of distress in the industry
- Prioritize adoption initiatives, to give continued support much past product integration to districts
Like every great challenge, EdTech founders seeing the opportunity in technology literacy limitations will determine their success or failure in the unpredictable years to come.