The edtech litmus test

blog | Words Sarah Ward | 19 Jun 2017

What does it really take to reap the promise of technology? Five experts judge the value and role of technology in education.

We might interpret the scale and ambition of London EdTech Week as an indication of continued optimism and energy around the field. Lots of people, including many educators, have great faith in the role that technology can play in transforming learning for the better. For decades the unstoppable march of technological progress has promised to unlock a radical shift in our education systems and step changes in the performance of our schools…but there’s a real sense of overpromise and underdeliver.

Innovation Unit is working with Aga Khan Education Services (AKES) on the development of a recommendations paper for an educational technology strategy, due to be scaled across their school network. The project oversees the ambitious development of an integrated, yet contextually relevant and agile Educational Technology Strategic Framework. Our work will enable AKES to take a strategic view of current trends, opportunities and challenges, and to identify important and urgent areas for development so they can prioritise investment in technology across their schools.

Throughout the project, we’ve been asking ourselves what does it really take to reap the promise of technology? What value can educators, and learners, get from the $5trillion (and growing) edtech market, and what should influence their choices about what to invest in? When there are so many different types, models and versions of products out there, what might be some good principles for decision making?

We asked 5 experts in the field what litmus test they would use to determine the worth of an education technology and how it can revolutionise learning in the 21st century. Here’s what they said:


“The litmus test depends on the extent to which the education technology can be integrated into the wider context of its use. More focus should be placed on the kind of learning experience developers are trying to design for, rather than the technology itself. Efficacy and user experience is always filtered by contextual factors – from the emotional state of individuals, to past experiences, to the group they are part of. This has an impact on the way educational technology does or does not support teaching.”Professor Rose Luckin – Chair of Learning with Digital Technologies
UCL Knowledge Lab


“Adaptability is key. Can the teacher and student locally adapt the technology to be used in an engaging way with others around them? Technology must be used to solve real problems, inside and outside of the classroom. How culture is fed into the technology and the school setting is important for successful use. Education technology should not isolate learners where cultural or gender disparities exist, but instead provide better opportunities for learning.”Amira Dhalla – Lead
Women and Web Literacy, Mozilla Clubs


“As a classroom teacher, a lot of the time I am driven by what I understand to be the imperatives and needs of my students, in a particular context, in a particular moment. These needs are mapped onto technologies that offer relevant opportunities for those learners. Any technology being used in a real context should be on the grounds that it might be interesting and effective for the students. This is dependent on particular students in a particular context.”Josh Underwood – Teacher and Teacher Trainer
British Council


“The majority of learning should not happen in isolation. Effective technologies connect students and teachers within the same school and with others external to the institution, providing them with the opportunity to connect, collaborate and share learning. Tools therefore need to be interoperable to work across different networks. These technologies should be intuitive, quick to understand, and have no barriers prior to use.”Julie Lindsay – Director
Flat Connections


“Technologies that can be used flexibly and provide teachers with room for creativity, work. Technologies that impose unfamiliar pedagogies on teachers, do not work. Teachers should be given the freedom and adequate tools to be designers of their own learning practice. Technology should enhance this, not replace it. If investing in a piece of technology, it should have the capacity to be used in a variety of ways so that it doesn’t constrain the user.”Sarah Horrocks – Director
London Connected Learning Centre

So the message from the experts is that context is everything and that actually unlocking the value in edtech is reliant on how well teachers, schools and systems utilise it.

Stay tuned for our follow up blog: Context is king – edtech implementation and the implications for school design.