Education Researcher Offers Tough Words for Startup Companies

The ed-tech startup boom is in full swing. Tech incubators and investors are fostering the emergence of ambitious new companies looking to make a difference in education and/or cash in on the industry. Notice how I said and/or. The truth is, not every startup company has the right kind of style to truly make a difference in education, and many individuals simply don’t do enough research to make an effective platform.

Coming to you from Venture Beat is a hard-hitting guest post from Professor Reynol Junco, titled “Most ed-tech startups suck! Here’s where they’re going wrong.” It’s time to look at the hard truths about this business. Professor Junco hates to break it to you, but “without knowing the research on how students learn and develop as well as the literature on how technology affects student outcomes, the chances of your startup magically creating student success are almost nonexistent.”

Professor Reynol Junco

Junco is an American psychologist and education and social media research. Much of his work revolves around the concept of the “digital native,” a term used to describe the current generation of kids so incredibly in tune with social media and digital technology that it thoroughly defines their lifestyle.

He laments the fact that in this huge boom, many investors are too willing to fund an ed-tech startup whose companies are woefully ignorant of quality educational research. I highly recommend you read Junco’s full post to get the gritty details, and in some cases, some specific mentions of companies.

He asks, where’s the data? How do you prove the effectiveness of a platform? The truth is, that for most, you simply can’t. The majority of startup companies are too new to actually possess quantifiable proof of their effectiveness in education, and some don’t even do the pre-research needed to provide data about something’s potential effectiveness. As Junco writes:

“Higher education faculty and administrators are already distrustful of startups because there is inherent skepticism about for-profit ventures. Ed-Tech companies have no data showing that their product does what they say it does. Indeed, in their unleashing of the Potential of Educational Technology report the U.S.’s Council of Economic Advisers politely wrote, “It is difficult for producers of these technologies to demonstrate the effectiveness of their products.”

So how do you get it right? How does a startup company actually make itself worth its salt? Junco makes a few suggestions: First, collaborate with an actual academic when developing your product. Pursue hard data about the potential effectiveness of your product, and refine the technology accordingly. When you get done with that, publish your findings to actually give yourself some solid credentials. And most importantly, Junco suggests startup companies “learn the culture of academia and help academia learn about the culture of startups.”

Need that link again? Read his full post. It’s required reading for any Technapex reader or education technology scholar.