There is always palpable energy in the room when educational technology folks come together. Many in the industry began their careers in the classroom and their missionary zeal for kids and education is still very much intact. Somewhere between the gloomy view of the investment community looking at the current educational marketplace as a "set of distressed assets" and the developer's Pollyanna enthusiasm for new technology lies the truth of where we currently sit. As the investors, developers, and marketers mixed and talked throughout the day at the SIIA Forum, it was clear that most were putting the best face on current economic realities.
Who could have foreseen even two months ago the climate in which we find ourselves today? Where exactly does all of this leave K-12 publishers, schools, teachers, and students? One of the panelists described students as a renewable resource. It's true and kids are going to keep showing up at school buildings across the country looking for an education, and there will be teachers there to teach them. This underlying driver of the industry is not going to change. School districts are always looking for opportunities to improve the value return on what they spend. This is now heightened, but not really a new factor. New technologies offer schools and districts the opportunity to streamline their infrastructures and save money.While our current situation is a detour from where we thought we'd be, there will still be many opportunities for K-12 publishers to demonstrate that their programs close the achievement gap, and this remains the number one priority of all school districts.
What are some of the takeaway ideas for education technology companies?
- Change is fast and disruptive but the economic downturn will be selective.
- Focus on products that close the achievement gap.
- High schools and colleges want to reduce drop outs. Serve that need.
- If you're not already there, move to individualized instruction. This is what technology does well.
- Integrate platforms for content and technology. Deliver customized solutions. Move to web-based model.
- Think virtualization. Make classes and content accessible from home with 24/7 availability.
- Assessment and accountability will continue to drive the market particularly early identification of struggling students.
- Be nimble, be smart, and understand it is not just about the product – it's about your relationship with your customer. Be a smart partner. Solve a problem.
In the final panel Farimah Schuerman of Academic Business Advisors noted that in times of crisis, communities come together to take comfort and strength from each other and to look for ideas. In part, that is what happened this week at the Ed Tech Business Forum. There was plenty of community support and plenty of ideas. Lee Wilson of Headway Strategies, also on the final panel, asserted that resource constraints produce the best designs and that some good things would come out of this economic shakeup to the K-12 technology industry:
You can't make sloppy decisions, so ultimately you make better choices. You still need to build the future and not ignore it at the expense of managing the present.