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Meeting students where they are: How to personalize edtech pathways

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Aug 30, 2022

Edtech’s explosive growth in the pandemic

Edtech firms have long been on the rise. Over the last decade, edtech firms have collectively raised $28 billion USD and are now worth north of $100 billion USD.1 But their growth boomed during the pandemic. The switch to online learning affected over 1.5 billion students around the world2 and investment continues to grow.

With a projected market valuation of $605.4 billion USD by 2027,3 edtech is here for good. The industry’s growth comes from a variety of sources: 

  • Governments want to keep their students on track with learning objectives3
  • Job seekers want to increase their competitiveness as a candidate or meet professional requirements by brushing up on marketable skills3
  • School districts, after having invested significantly in the edtech during the pandemic, want to make their financial purchases last as long as possible4

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Is it as fool-proof as we’re led to believe?

Students need social learning

While edtech has many benefits - such as making education more accessible and standardized - it isn't a standalone resolution.2 For instance, when leaning heavily into screen usage, children don’t get as much face-to-face interaction - a necessary component of effective learning and social skills development.5 

Additionally, digital devices are already distracting for adults, let alone children. Learning via paper and books rather than a screen reduces distractions and has been shown to be a more practical learning platform.5 Teaching is innately social, and while edtech can enhance social aspects, it can sometimes pose a barrier to students from working and learning together as easily.2

Teachers must expend more cognitive effort

For teachers, edtech can increase efficiency; for example, simplifying the process of passing out resources. Unfortunately for them, it also requires more cognitive effort to learn a new software, encapsulating the status quo bias. Teachers might not have the confidence to use the technology, perhaps because it’s different from what they’re used to or - more likely - because it wasn't designed by teachers, so it isn't always intuitive.

In order for edtech’s potential to be realized, teachers have the added burden of learning new teaching practices that will enable them to choose the right technology and use “it in the right way, with the right students, for the right purpose.”6 That takes time, and with a busy teaching schedule, instructors likely don’t have the capacity or extra time to make these accommodations. 

The issue isn’t that there are few products on the market, it’s the way products communicate their value: teachers say that they will not investigate a new technology if it doesn’t offer an easily understandable benefit.7 The same can be said about students, for whom school is already difficult enough without having to learn how to use an overwhelming amount of tech.8 

Adopted technologies most used by teachers

A survey from GLG Insights found that teachers use edtech most frequently when communicating (94%) and sharing materials (89%) with their students, and least frequently for gamifying their instruction (20%).

The gap between demand and available edtech

Why is there a gap between the needs of teachers and students and what is available? One possibility is explained by the observer-expectancy effect. It describes how the perceived desires or expected outcomes of a researcher can affect the behavior of the people being observed. In this setting, it’s possible that when researchers observed teachers or students using an edtech platform, the observers exhibited the kind of behavior that would satisfy the researchers. Perhaps they used the new edtech software more, or attempted to climb the learning curve for longer than they would have otherwise.

Out in the “field” (i.e. the classroom), teachers might not actually change how they teach even with the presence of edtech. As is the case with any new change, only a handful of people generally embrace the new tech innovations, while many others never adopt it or only do so slowly.6

Teachers and edtech developers have different priorities

Another component as to why edtech isn’t necessarily tailored towards those who use it is because of the different priorities of developers and teachers.9

Many edtech companies, prioritizing competition, may choose to develop solutions that are sufficiently generic to be used by a wide group of people, rather than develop specific tools that excellently fit a smaller market.9

Solution: Monitor user behavior

In order to understand how to minimize the gap between what learners need and what’s available to them, app developers could create a built-in monitoring mechanism to track how students and teachers use the software. Like cookies, which track and monitor not only the sites a user visits but also what they do within sites,10 edtech developers can create a similar mechanism in order to better align the desires of the app developers with that of teachers and learners. 

Once developers collect sufficient data, they can start to identify different types of users and even create distinct pathways that will best enhance their learning. Creating more personalized pathways has a variety of benefits: it will reduce resistance, increase adoption, and yield a better user experience.

Distinctive pathways for disparate needs

Developers can create different pathways for teachers of different subjects. For example, an English teacher would likely use automated plagiarism detection or software that allows their students to edit peer papers. In contrast, a foreign language teacher might prefer a gamified learning experience (similar to Duolingo). 

Even teachers of the same topics have diverse needs when it comes to the age of their students. Elementary school math teachers might prefer a gamified approach, whereas high-level calculus teachers would likely opt into software that lets their students share notes or access lectures.

No matter what age group or subject, teachers and students could all benefit from efficient solutions and more time. A monitoring mechanism allows instructors to quickly access what they need and students to spend less unnecessary time navigating the technology.

The impact of meeting users where they are

When considering which tools to use in classrooms, about 44% of teachers rely on the opinions of their colleagues - more than double the percentage of instructors who trust the recommendations of their school- and district-level leaders.11 In a profession where most educators say they’re left out of the process of adopting new technology,11 there are significant opportunities for developers to build loyalty and trust. In bridging the gap between what’s available and what’s needed in the edtech space, developers demonstrate that they are truly listening to the needs of teachers and students, which will increase the likelihood of teachers recommending these products to their peers.

An adaptable strategy will increase competitiveness

Edtech has been around for a few decades and is here to stay for the foreseeable future.12 In order to best help teachers teach and students learn, edtech developers must understand how to serve them best by creating monitoring mechanisms to identify learning pathways and make changes to identified issues. In doing this, edtech firms will also establish themselves as an ally to teachers and learners, many of whom are apprehensive about how technology can help them in this space. 

The Decision Lab is a behavioral science consultancy that works with some of the most well-known organizations in the world to tackle the most pressing issues of our time. Education, and its relationship with edtech, is pivotal to the future of our societies, and incorporating a feedback system is a key component of sparking positive action in this space. If you are interested in learning more about how The Decision Lab can help your educational technology, contact us


  1. The Complete List of Global EdTech Unicorns. (2022, June 17). HolonIQ. https://www.holoniq.com/edtech-unicorns/
  2. Tobin, E., & Hieker, C. (2021). What the EdTech Experience in Refugee Camps Can Teach Us in Times of School Closure. Blended Learning, Modular and Mobile Programs Are Key to Keeping Disadvantaged Learners in Education. Challenges, 12(2), 19. https://doi.org/10.3390/challe12020019
  3. Global EdTech Market Outlook & Forecast Report 2022: Market Size was Valued at $254.80 Billion in 2021 and is Expected to Reach $605.40 Billion by 2027. (2022, February 1). GlobeNewswire News Room. https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2022/02/01/2376551/28124/en/Global-EdTech-Market-Outlook-Forecast-Report-2022-Market-Size-was-Valued-at-254-80-Billion-in-2021-and-is-Expected-to-Reach-605-40-Billion-by-2027.html
  4. Morrison, N. (2021, December 31). Five Ed Tech Trends To Look Out For In 2022. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/nickmorrison/2021/12/31/five-ed-tech-trends-to-look-out-for-in-2022/
  5. Bouygues, H. L. (2019, June 14). Does Educational Technology Help Students Learn? Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/helenleebouygues/2019/06/14/does-educational-technology-help-students-learn/
  6. Herold, B. (2015, June 10). Why Ed Tech Is Not Transforming How Teachers Teach. Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/technology/why-ed-tech-is-not-transforming-how-teachers-teach/2015/06
  7. Carlson, T. (2019, May 29). Here’s Why Teachers Adopt New Tech—And Why They Don’t. EdSurge. https://www.edsurge.com/news/2019-05-29-here-s-why-teachers-adopt-new-tech-and-why-they-don-t
  8. Devanesan, J. (2022, April 28). EdTech adoption without compromising the user experience. TechHQ. https://techhq.com/2022/04/ensuring-edtech-adoption-without-compromising-the-user-experience/
  9. Zinchenko, P. (2021, April 12). Top 9 EdTech Challenges and Opportunities in 2021. Web and Mobile App Development Company — MindK.Com. https://www.mindk.com/blog/edtech-challenges-and-opportunities/
  10. Rafter, D. (2022, May 13). What are cookies? Website cookies definition. Norton. https://us.norton.com/internetsecurity-how-to-what-are-cookies.html
  11. Clever. (2022, March 17). New Survey: Teachers Who Are Involved In Choosing Edtech Tools Report Greater Satisfaction With District Offerings. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/new-survey-teachers-who-are-involved-in-choosing-edtech-tools-report-greater-satisfaction-with-district-offerings-301504878.html
  12. Lightbody, K. (2016, September 12). Ed Tech: A Brief History. Fast Company.https://www.fastcompany.com/3062993/ed-tech-a-brief-history

About the Authors

Lindsey Turk's portrait

Lindsey Turk

Lindsey Turk is a Summer Content Associate at The Decision Lab. She holds a Master of Professional Studies in Applied Economics and Management from Cornell University and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Boston University. Over the last few years, she’s gained experience in customer service, consulting, research, and communications in various industries. Before The Decision Lab, Lindsey served as a consultant to the US Department of State, working with its international HIV initiative, PEPFAR. Through Cornell, she also worked with a health food company in Kenya to improve access to clean foods and cites this opportunity as what cemented her interest in using behavioral science for good.

Dan Pilat's portrait

Dan Pilat

Dan is a Co-Founder and Managing Director at The Decision Lab. He is a bestselling author of Intention - a book he wrote with Wiley on the mindful application of behavioral science in organizations. Dan has a background in organizational decision making, with a BComm in Decision & Information Systems from McGill University. He has worked on enterprise-level behavioral architecture at TD Securities and BMO Capital Markets, where he advised management on the implementation of systems processing billions of dollars per week. Driven by an appetite for the latest in technology, Dan created a course on business intelligence and lectured at McGill University, and has applied behavioral science to topics such as augmented and virtual reality.

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