Why EdTech Research Matters to You: Bridging the Gap between EdTech Researchers and EdTech Entrepreneurs

Academic experts in education are increasingly turning their attention to EdTech as a serious research topic because it is both exciting and potentially transformative while also posing unique challenges.
In the past, the field of EdTech has perhaps had a reputation for needing to take research more seriously and scaling rapidly without a deep understanding of context or waiting for evidence from implementation. In their turn, researchers have often been viewed as lacking an understanding of the needs and timescales of the tech world. But times are changing, and EdTech entrepreneurs are increasingly undertaking their own research in-house or partnering with academics in research institutions. This leads to innovations that are better adapted to their context, more cost-effective and that improve learning for more young people.

At a webinar hosted by EdTech Hub and Education Sub-Saharan Africa (ESSA) on May 4, 2023, we explored the growing field of EdTech research and what it takes to build a high-impact partnership between EdTech entrepreneurs and researchers. The conversation highlighted what makes research in EdTech so unique, the opportunities for impact, and the challenges for both researchers and entrepreneurs.

We have drawn on these highlights to develop a set of questions to help researchers decide whether EdTech research is the field for them.

The field of EdTech is looking for more researchers and, in particular, researchers with the contextual understanding who can add value as products are shaped and developed.

Could you be the next researcher to join this growing movement? Answer the questions below to find out!

Are you engaged by creativity?

The field of EdTech is fundamentally a creative one, full of early-stage ideas from entrepreneurs creating new products to respond to old problems. Alongside creativity comes passion and a desire to think and behave in new ways. Both researchers and entrepreneurs on our panel talked about how EdTech research partnerships stretched them to think in new ways. If you are ready for some fresh thinking and can bring imagination to your research design, then EdTech could be a very fulfilling field of research for you.

Can you juggle multiple perspectives?

Undertaking research on EdTech requires understanding what success looks like from multiple perspectives. Education researchers are used to thinking about children, teachers, school leaders, government officials, and policymakers, but EdTech research involves adding to the mix the perspective of the entrepreneur and often the investors in the EdTech product as well. Entrepreneurs and investors may be less experienced when it comes to managing the complexity of relationships that exist within education systems. Our panelists also warned of the complexity of often unseen power dynamics in the system. The person who holds power on paper is often different from the person who holds power in reality. Understanding how this dynamic is affected by research approaches and results is a stimulating task, but not for the faint-hearted!

Is variety the spice of life?

When developing educational technologies the one constant is change. Many new technologies enable quick loops of data feedback, leading to rapid change that can disrupt carefully thought-out research approaches. It is not just products that change — incentives can change too depending on where an EdTech company is in its fundraising cycle. The researchers on the panel stressed that change must be built in from the start and managed carefully. Variety is the spice of life for some but can be exhausting for others.

Can you deliver bad news? 

Many, if not most, innovations in education do not work first time. It is highly likely that  your first research results will be a disappointment to the entrepreneur who lovingly designed and then brought into being their new technology. The researchers and entrepreneurs on our panel had both dealt with research that failed to yield the desired results.. If delivered in the right way, an honest conversation about what is not working and why can greatly strengthen the relationship between researcher and entrepreneur and ultimately lead to a positive outcome. Are you excited by the challenge of designing research so that, even when the results are negative, there will still be a useful outcome for all partners involved? Can you build a relationship that can grow from a tough conversation?

Do you want to see the direct impact of your work on children?

All of the researchers on our panel became most passionate when talking about the rewards of undertaking research that has a direct impact on children’s learning. By working closely with EdTech entrepreneurs they had all seen how their work led to the change in the product or its implementation that demonstrably improved children’s learning. What could bring more job satisfaction than that?

If you answered mostly ‘yes’ then you could be an EdTech researcher! So, what next? The best relationships and the best research come out of talking to an entrepreneur early, so if you are interested in this field you should seek out spaces to meet innovators and start forming relationships. 

Next, EdTech Hub and ESSA will be hosting an online ‘matchmaking event’ where entrepreneurs and researchers will have a chance to meet, mingle, and discuss areas of mutual interest that could lead to partnerships. Sound interesting? Sign up here! See you there!

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