Adventures in Edtech – Lessons Learned

I've been involved in the creation of learning technology inside the university and outside the university. I've led a Faculty-level learning tech and IT team in the creation of new tools and the marketing and support for new and existing tools. I've started two edtech companies and done application development, UI/UX design, legal, marketing, sales, user onboarding, and user support. What have I learned? Don't be naive. Be realistic.

What have i learned?

This is relevant for anyone in a learning technology support or strategy role.

Sorry for the pessimism. I'm going to be pretty extreme, to get your attention. I'm not a misanthrope: I've just been naive and my observations come from frustration and then acceptance.

whether you're an 'internal' or 'external' LT Provider...


1. Who is your customer?

  • With few exceptions, programs and faculty have NO INCENTIVE to innovate in a way that results in better learning. 
    • Teaching (and research) innovation in universities is ego-driven. I mean that it comes from someone wanting to do something rather than needing to do it.
  • With few exceptions, programs and faculty have LOTS OF INCENTIVE to save time.
  • With NO exceptions, administrators, academic leadership, and faculty consider innovation risky: it will take time away from other things, it might not help, and students might be annoyed.
  • Put yourself in Faculty shoes. Understand that there are lots of types:
    • Early adopters
    • Junior faculty
    • Senior faculty
    • Sessional instructors
    • Research-driven faculty (teaching pays the bills)
    • Teaching-driven faculty (teaching is a vocation or their full job description)
    • Different programs, size of classes, modes of instruction, etc.
    • Don't forget that you have this very differentiated market

2. Think like a marketer

  • If you build it they WILL NOT come. Go get them and lead them.
  • Keep trying. No, seriously, keep trying, again, and again, and again.
  • Use multiple channels.
    • Workshops are ok, but they're not enough.
    • Faculty-led stories, on website and events. LT ride sidecar (Example).
    • Go departmental.
    • LT leaders present to Heads of Dept and UG Directors.
    • Email marketing with segmentation.
  • You have multiple markets: instructors, students, UG directors, Heads, Associate Deans, University administrators/leadership. Understand their personas.
  • Quick product demos with 2 minute video. Follow up.
  • Don't over-demo. Ask them what they think the tool might do for them and for their students (which are separate things).
  • Find ways to encourage 'referrals'.
  • In all your support materials, expose instructors to related tools that might be of interest, just like Amazon does to you. (See Arts ISIT website for this).

3. You are a salesperson - embrace it

  • If you believe in the tools and their pedagogical or faculty-time-saving value, sell them. You're doing good.
  • Learn sales techniques. Even if it's a 'free' tool internally. Take a couple of online sales courses.
  • Don't get frustrated. Be at peace with a 5% sales rate.
  • Think about "Customer Success". Use a CRM - follow up, support.
  • Sell the tools alongside your expertise.
  • Be up front about the limitations of the 'product'. Warn them about the frustrating stuff and how to work around it.
  • Make sure your LT leadership endorses your sales and can handle the scale-up and support needs. Work out a plan with your supervisor and their supervisor!

4. feel like a Partner with vendors and internal lt-IT people

  • We're all in this together. Act like it.
  • Be a beta-tester and suggestion-box for vendors. You might end up on that side of the table, so get as much exposure to it and networking as you can.

5. proof is overrated

  • Faculty don't care about SOTL.
  • Faculty don't care about vendors' case studies on how great the tool is for learning.
  • Sorry.



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Learning Significance

  1. If you build it THEY WILL NOT come.