EdTech Buyers’ Guide

Feeling overwhelmed by the search for the perfect EdTech solution within your school? We understand.

In recent years, the rapid expansion of product quantity and diversity within the EdTech industry has significantly complicated – and raised the importance of – schools’ purchasing decisions.

But don’t let that discourage you. Decoding the EdTech market is achievable with one essential ingredient: an effective procurement strategy. And this EdTech Buyers’ Guide is here to empower you in creating exactly that.

Here’s everything you will learn in this guide:

  • What an effective procurement strategy looks like
  • How to approach various types of evidence when evaluating a solution’s impact
  • Which common contractual pitfalls to keep an eye out for
  • The methods to ensure ethical and qualitative benchmarks are both implemented and evidenced
  • How to navigate the EdTech market

Knowing Your Procurement Strategy

Before searching for technology solutions, it’s important to first define the specific problem you’re aiming to solve. Have you identified a gap within your school’s digital strategy? Are there specific outcomes you are aspiring to improve?

With EdTech systems, it can be very easy to get drawn into conversations for tools that look fun or impressive, but in fact have minimal learning impact in relation to your school and its needs. On EdTech Impact, we’ve mapped solutions with their impact (the outcomes they claim to improve), so that you can quickly filter to the ones that suit your goals. Here’s our top-level taxonomy:

EdTech Impact's outcome taxonomy maps EdTech solutions to their impact.

Be aware that every EdTech provider will tell you they can improve your outcomes. It is therefore in your interest to ask them to be specific and explain how they’ve arrived at such an answer.

The significance of not skipping the research stage and jumping straight to your favourite option cannot be overstated, so avoid the temptation to do so. Insufficient procurement strategies with poor planning have often proven an achilles heel for many EdTech projects, resulting in wasted money, decreased staff confidence, and another entry into the (virtual) cupboard of shame.bar

Evaluating a Solution’s Impact

The EdTech marketplace is competitive, with wild assertions often made about a solution’s effectiveness. It is up to you to examine whether these claims hold true.

Only 8% of schools actually trust the claims made by suppliers. (Research by the EdTech Evidence Group, 2021)

The Evidence Types for Evaluating Impact

Anecdotal Evidence:

Examples of anecdotal evidence include users’ views, testimonials and reflections. While the easiest to obtain, this form of evidence is based solely on impressions and informal observations, making it the weakest of evidence types.

Common sources include: word of mouth; blog posts; product endorsements; promotional videos; personal recommendations, and reflections.

Descriptive Evidence:

This evidence relates to surveys, case studies, interviews, or observations, and typically provides both a basic characterisation of trends, and a snapshot of how things are at a specific time.

It common to find descriptive evidence in marketing materials and news articles, usually in the form of graphs and charts.

Correlational evidence:

This type of evidence serves to establish relationships between two or more approaches and make predictions for the future. For instance, when a positive correlation occurs between the use of an app and teachers’ satisfaction levels, this is suggestive that one is positively related to the other.

Correlational evidence doesn’t imply causation, meaning it cannot be used to make inferences about one thing causing the other. What it can do is determine the direction of their relationship; for example, as use of the app increases, so too do teacher satisfaction levels.

Causal evidence:

Causal evidence measures whether one thing changes the other and the magnitude of that change. For instance, if a teacher wants to know whether children’s increased test scores are attributable to technology use, scientific methods, such as experiments and randomised controlled trials (RCTs), can rule out alternative explanations for the observed change.

As causal inferences involve manipulating natural events and creating an intervention, gathering this type of evidence is both time-consuming and expensive. Nevertheless, if evidence were organised according to a hierarchy of “evidence quality”, then causal studies with randomised controlled trials would represent the gold standard.

It is important to remember that different types of evidence are suited to different contexts, and each type of study has its own unique limitations and biases. Evidence-aware educators, therefore, make the best possible pedagogical decisions for individual children based on several types and sources of evidence.

The Rise of Peer Reviews for Evaluating Impact

Peer reviews have become a critical component in today’s e-commerce world, revealing authentic insights into what it’s like to be a customer, whether the product’s performance is improving or declining over time, and how they rank against their competition.

At EdTech Impact, we have published over 10,000 independent peer reviews of education technology solutions, capturing diverse perceptions of their impact and how they are being used in different educational contexts.

Furthermore, our review filtering feature allows you to refine results based on the school setting. After all, a review originating from a small school in the countryside may not be that helpful if you work in a large inner-city school!

Recording Your Own Observations

While existing evidence will help you form an opinion on whether a solution might work, the next step is putting it to test in your own environment. This is where a trial period becomes particularly useful.

To implement a trial effectively, it is important to gather feedback from a variety of users for as long as possible. If time poses an issue, try recording these three simple observations after each lesson:

  • Accessibility: Does the solution support and stretch students of all levels? 
  • Student Insight: Does the solution tell me more than I knew before about a particular group of students?
  • Teaching Efficacy: Does using the solution enhance my teaching?

Trial Tip: Many suppliers will extend the trial period if you are willing to share your feedback with them. A win-win scenario.

Checking the Small Print

Naturally, no one enjoys reading contractual small print. However, once the contract is signed, your options are limited. So, before you sign any EdTech contract, ask yourself: “Am I 100% confident that I know what I’m signing up to?”

These are the common traps to be aware of:

1. Total Cost of Ownership

The price of a car doesn’t include road tax, insurance, or your weekly visit to the petrol station. Technology is much the same: the upfront cost may not be the total cost.

In the case of EdTech, the licence (subscription) cost represents only one element of the total cost of ownership. This means that a smart procurement strategy will be aware of – and subsequently budget for – additional future costs, such as:

  • Maintenance Fees
  • Staff Training
  • Ongoing Support
  • Device Compatibility
  • Product Lifespan (if you’re buying hardware)

Pay Extra Attention: We understand how precious product pricing is, with 71% of educators identifying the ‘Cost of EdTech Hardware’ as a main barrier to using EdTech over the next 10 years (Ecorys Survey Sampling – June 2022). So, once your budget has found a solution, be sure that it accounts for, and understands, the likely future costs.

2. Free Still Comes with a Cost

If you’re considering opting for a free, freemium, or very cheap solution, ask yourself the paradoxical question: “free at what cost?”

Free products tend to be self-service, and rarely come with account management support or training. Be prepared to invest a lot of your own time learning how to use the solution, and consider how much time this will take from your day.

Moreover, be mindful of another form of currency you may unknowingly be paying with – your personal data. Much like how Facebook sells data to third-party advertisers, some “free” EdTech solutions may be following a similar path.

3. Training and Support Package

Technology isn’t always immediately accessible, meaning its success is often underpinned by the quality of its training and support.

Be aware of your options. Of the 1,900+ solutions listed on EdTech Impact, their training and support typically falls into 10 buckets:

EdTech solutions differ in their approach to training and support, meaning it is important that educators are aware of the different types so that each product can be assessed against their individual needs.

4. Contract Considerations

A growing trend is for suppliers to offer you a 3 year contract. This isn’t inherently good or bad, but there are a few things you should consider before agreeing to a long term commitment.

Have you used the solution before?
If this is your first time, be absolutely sure this is the right solution for you. Getting out of a three-year deal can be expensive.

Consider requesting a break clause.
Inserting a break clause into the contract is a good way to protect yourself, and gives you the flexibility to end the contract early should the solution fail to deliver upon the agreed outcomes.

Negotiate a Bigger Discount.
Many suppliers publicly offer a 5-10% discount for multi-year contracts. If you’re happy to proceed, look to negotiate a better price.

Cancellation Procedures.
It is commonplace for contracts to stipulate that you must give them 90 days notice that you intend to cancel, otherwise the contract will automatically renew for another year. In some cases, suppliers stipulate a 180 day notice period. That is 6 months and might easily catch you out, so do read the fine print.

Looking Out for Quality Benchmarks

It’s easy to assume that all EdTech is compliant with robust policies in place, but this isn’t always the case. Moreover, even with data privacy impact assessments (DPIAs), cybersecurity risks, exploitative data practices, poor ethics, algorithmic bias, accessibility requirements, and other issues will not be flagged.

For assurance, look out for the EDDS audit certification across all benchmarks.

To successfully dig deeper into companies’ policies, look to ask them these questions:

1. Matters of Cybersecurity

  • What security controls are implemented internally and externally?
  • What controls are implemented that underpin GDPR and other data privacy measures?
  • What are the functionalities the product provides? Does it require a webcam, chat, and enables access to third-party apps or content? 
  • Does it provide interoperability (what data standards are used) and is the product simply ‘plug and play’?
  • Does the solution allow for single sign-on?
  • Does it integrate seamlessly with the school MIS/SIS?

2. Data Responsibility

  • Is the solution GDPR-compliant? 
  • Is it clear who is the data controller?
  • What data does the solution have access to, collect and process? 
  • Is there any secondary use, sharing and computation throughout its lifecycle?

3. Know the Student

  • How does the solution address school complaints?
  • Is there a one-stop for a student/teacher to request for help?
  • What provisions does the solution offer for redress?

4. Ethical Trust

  • What is the vendor’s awareness of cultural distinction? Is their solution ‘one size fits all’? 
  • Is ethics integrated at the design stage (e.g., is your participation as a stakeholder considered at any stage of the solution)?

5. Algorithmic Fairness

  • What is the computational complexity used by the provider if their solution deploys algorithmic computation?
  • On what datasets are its algorithms trained?

6. Human Resources

  • Who are the individuals behind the product?
  • What is their culture and ethos with regards to delivering child-centred products?

7. Duty of Care

  • Is the provider displaying clear information about its audit certifications (e.g., such as on any of the above, or GDPR compliance, Edtech Impact pedagogical assessment, and others)?
  • Is the provider clearly displaying age use for which its services are intended?
  • Is there any transparency or guidelines provided on screen time use?

8. Digital accessibility

  • Does the solution support SEN/EAL? 
  • How does the solution adapt to support different types of SEN/EAL learners?
  • What accessibility principles does the solution implement?
  • What accessibility features such as screen readers, text-to-speech and audio options does the solution provide?

9. Age-Appropriate Design Code (AADC)

  • Is there a clear display that the edtech provider adheres to any or all parts of the AADC or other privacy-by-design guidelines?
  • Are the solutions’ policies written in an age-appropriate language so that its intended user can understand without difficulty?

Did You Know? 25% of EdTech suppliers don’t have a visible Privacy Policy on their website! (EdTech Impact market analysis – 2021)

Asking Key Questions of Solution Providers

When talking to exhibitors, establish how much they know about their products and insist on having your questions answered before making any commitment. If they can’t answer all of your questions there and then, don’t be afraid to ask for a follow-up.

These are some key questions to ask providers about their product:

1. What evidence do you have that your product works?

Ask the supplier to show you their evidence portfolio. Some will claim a large impact on students, but what evidence do they have to back up their numbers? Did they collaborate with schools and research teams to develop and test their solutions?

Make sure to check if suppliers have conducted any studies of their product before launch. Perhaps an external research team evaluated the impact of their technology on student outcomes.

The more studies, links to published papers, established kitemarks, certificates or awards they have in their evidence portfolio, the more you can be sure that they care about evidence.

2. How does the product meet cyber security standards?

If a supplier uses third-party sources of content, data, intellectual property, or software, what reassurance can they give that their service is reliable and resistant against technical failures, security attacks, and third-party failures?

It is important to speak to your Data Protection Officer (DPO) about GDPR requirements for new products, and what they would need to approve their use. DPOs would be delighted if company websites clearly signposted the following types of content: template processor agreement, EULAs, list of sub-processors, details of data transfers outside the EU (safeguards and risk assessments), how they meet the requirements of the age appropriate design code, and an eagerness to complete due diligence questionnaires and contribute to DPIAs. Satisfied DPOs approve things faster!

Data Managers will also want to know what data is processed and how it is being used. Is a direct upload via CSV required, or will the product integrate with data integration tools? Be aware that it’s the school’s responsibility to check this and not take it for granted. 

3. Does the product support SEN/EAL students?

How does the product adapt to support different types of SEN/EAL students so that opportunities are as inclusive as possible? Can you describe/demonstrate what this looks like?

Look out for accessibility features, screen readers, text-to-speech and audio options. How will this solution help to narrow any attainment gap?

4. What is your sustainability strategy?

Every school is required to develop a sustainability action plan by 2025. Ask suppliers what their sustainability strategy is and how that fits with the lifespan of devices and replaceable parts. Especially in the current climate, find out what they are doing as a company, and how their product might fit into your sustainability strategy (think reduction in printing costs, less duplication of work, power usage).

5. Does the product integrate with other EdTech?

Does the product link with existing products you are using in school? For example, products like Thinglink, Book Creator, and Mote all link seamlessly with Canva. This direct linking can reduce cognitive overload by providing familiar user experiences, and allows for more cross-channel usage of content without having to sign in and out of various products.

6. How long is the free trial?

Many products offer 1 month free trials, but it’s worth asking if you can extend this to at least 3 months. Anything shorter is rarely long enough to build a full picture of use and potential.  

Find out what you will lose access to if you don’t continue after the trial and what will remain. Some products revert back to their free package at the end of a trial period and any created content is no longer accessible. This can be problematic for pupils wanting to access earlier work, let alone wasted time for teachers who have spent time preparing resources.

7. How do you support us with the trial?

Don’t be afraid to ask. Key considerations include staff training, troubleshooting and implementation support. When your trial ends, decisions will be based on evaluating the product’s impact, so don’t be afraid to ask the supplier how to evaluate their product and what KPIs they would recommend. It’s fine to expect the suppliers to be proactive.

8. How do you support long term implementation?

Be honest about your CPD calendar. If it’s already set, and the likelihood of getting the school leaders to give up more than an hour of CPD time is slim, be upfront about this and discuss other possibilities. Enquire about on-demand training and ‘open deep dives’ for users who want to learn. These might be webinars, YouTube Lives, monthly video calls or online accredited mini-courses to upskill and inspire users.

Ask if the product is being used in nearby schools, or by someone else in your Trust, so you can learn about their implementation experience.

9. How does the freemium offer work?

Many products offer a free package to teachers where you ‘earn’ additional feature access for generating recommendations and new user sign ups. This can be great, but it depends on your reach. You need to consider if you will convert enough adopters to ‘earn’ what is being offered.

Freemium packages can also be useful for testing and trialling products amongst colleagues in order to obtain evidence to back a larger pilot.

10. How is the price calculated?

Many EdTech products are priced based on the ‘number of pupils on roll’ in your school. Depending on your circumstances, this may not be right for you.

Explore the possibility of different package levels based on active users or seats. Find out if seats are fixed or if it’s possible to reassign at any time. Newer products can be more flexible with pricing compared to more mature companies that operate at scale.

Navigating the EdTech Market

Once you’re able to critically assess and evaluate EdTech solutions in relation to your procurement strategy, the logical next step is to begin browsing the EdTech market. However, knowing where to search, and how to conduct it, can seem overwhelming.

This is where EdTech Impact steps in. With over 1,900 products, our comprehensive marketplace acts as a centralised hub for educators and leaders to learn, compare, and assess EdTech solutions in a streamlined fashion. Here’s how to do so effectively:

Finding the right EdTech Category

Our EdTech categories page thoughtfully organises the EdTech market to provide simple navigation. From here, you’ll find 86 categories spread across 5 domains: Devices & Hardware, School Management, Pupils & Parents, Teachers & School Leaders, and Subjects.

Filtering EdTech Products

Once a category to browse is selected, you can then filter the Age, Pricing, Evidence, Requirements, and Outcomes of the solution to fit your procurement strategy, as shown below:

Users looking for an EdTech solution through EdTech Impact can filter a category's page to suit their buyer needs.

Understanding the EdTech Product

As the list of products begin to align with your strategy, it is time to start exploring your options! Each product within a chosen category has its own detailed profile interface, providing essential information and evidence.

EdTech Impact's product interface offers a useful summation for users to learn essential details relating to a specific EdTech solution.

And each interface provides navigational access to the product profile where the user can access even more important details about the EdTech platform.

EdTech Impact's product profile pages allow users to develop their understanding of an EdTech solution.

Evaluating the Potential Solution

Once key information on a solution’s suitability has been collected, it is time to collect evidence that can provide meaningful evaluations of the EdTech product’s likely impact on your school.

Firstly, each platform case study offers a real-world example of the resource’s application within a school setting, supporting an enhanced understanding of its practical implementation.

Secondly, Education Alliance Finland’s pedagogical evaluations offer deep insights into a product’s design and learning objectives. This allows prospective buyers to determine whether the product matches their own school’s pedagogical approach.

Case studies and pedagogical evaluations provide useful information on an EdTech product's design, approach, and practical implementation for a prospective buyer.

Thirdly, EdTech Impact has published over 10,000 peer reviews from like-minded educators, each of which details much more than a mere rating and rating comment. These include the user’s name, staff role, and school (allowing you to filter peer assessments based on their comparability to your school’s context), and specific outcome ratings and comments that provide further evaluation of a product’s impact.

Finally, and most crucially, each solution can be compared with up to three personally- or pre- selected products.

Comparing EdTech products is a great tool for finding the perfect solution for your school.

Still Uncertain?

If exploring the EdTech market still isn’t your immediate focus, don’t worry – EdTech Impact provides more than a market platform. Our comprehensive quality framework reflects our ongoing commitment to driving quality and transparency globally in the EdTech industry, whilst our regular news content provides schools and educators with valuable insights and support.

Updated on: 30 August 2023

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