Automation doesn’t mean Automatic Success in EdTech

Automation can sometimes be beneficial, but don’t overlook the importance of the art of teaching.

Don't think automation can replace teachers

I’ve written before about many EdTech CEOs coming into the education space from another industry, and making the assumption that what works for banking or HR or food service will automatically work for educators. These people often get pretty far into the process, including product development and sometimes even a round of funding before they ever talk to an actual educator.

And often, because of the unique way education works, they end up hitching their wagon to an idea or a concept that educators aren’t interested in. This is one of the main reasons why startup EdTech companies fail, a lack of basic market research on whether their product or platform is necessary or even desirable in education.

Automation Isn’t Automatically Successful

Let’s take a look at something many tech CEOs assume is always a good and desirable function for any product or platform—automation. There are lots of products in the EdTech space that automate processes for students, educators, and administrators. automation art of teaching quote

One category that EdTech companies have been all over is creating responsive software that individualizes instruction to each student. As the student interacts with the program, it makes adjustments to feed the student information tailored to his or her current level of understanding of the subject matter.

Sounds great, right? What could be better? Plop our kids in front of a computer all day and there’s no need for those pesky teachers. Well, that’s not how education works, and that kind of attitude is considered insulting. Teachers are there for a reason — they know how to teach.

The Art of Teaching

“We don’t want to put a student on a computer and have them solely learn through that particular software that provides feedback and then feeds more problems or exercises for basic skill development,” says Randy Ziegenfuss, Ed.D., Superintendent at Salisbury Township School District in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

He is more interested in software that a student uses for a few minutes, then the teacher gets involved. After 15 minutes with the computer, the teacher checks the data generated,.

“Then the teacher uses their art of teaching, to take that data and design richer experiences that are more customized, competency-based or personalized to allow students to practice what they’ve mastered using the software.”

Notice the phrase, “their art of teaching” used by Ziegenfuss when talking about educators. This is just one aspect of many that makes education different than other industries. Too many EdTech founders and CEOs ignore these types of differences when developing products.