Shift Toward Decentralized Decisions About Technology for Schools

This is a guest post written by Sarah Glover, Outreach Director at Panorama Education.

The fast growth underway in the EdTech space is both leveraging and accelerating a trend in decentralized decision-making in education.  While hardware and broadband decisions remain quite centralized, we are seeing a huge growth in the number and types of decision-makers for apps and software.

The main drivers of the trend toward decentralization are access (anyone with broadband can access an incredible wealth of curriculum and teaching resources, and the homeschool movement is booming as a result of this) and low price points. Another contributor is pain – currently in the form of most of K-12 shifting to Common Core standards and the inexplicable dearth of high-quality curriculum that tightly embraces those standards.  Teachers and principals across the country are scrambling to assemble curriculum that will enable their students to perform well on the new assessments. Commitments to one-to-one computing and “bring your own device” strategies also accelerate the decentralization trend; more devices create more access and opportunity for innovation and exploration.

The fact that decisions are increasingly made at the school or classroom level to purchase and use apps and online platforms for teachers, students, and parents has major implications for how technology companies, like Panorama Education, where I work, build and take products to market. EdTech companies must build products keeping the users, namely teachers and their students, in mind.

Who Do Technology Companies Build For?

The trend toward decentralized technology purchasing is exciting to me because it adds positive external pressure for EdTech companies to deliver user-friendly and valuable experiences to some of the most important end users: teachers, students, and parents. Put bluntly, EdTech companies will succeed or fail based on two key factors: 1) how we deliver value to individual users; and 2) how we enable communities of users to learn and derive value from one another.

The decentralization of technology purchasing means that the users and purchasing decision-makers tend to be closer together, working in the same buildings and evaluating products for their particular school communities. Maybe the buyer and user is actually the same person.  This means the person evaluating the product is also the primary user. This is a big shift from how purchasing has happened in education historically and has significant implications for product development and outreach.

In addition, because of the huge growth in technology tools to support individual student learning, school administrators and teachers will increasingly evaluate products used at the building-level directly. As a result, EdTech companies must now develop tools and services for teachers with teachers much more specifically in mind. Ideally, this pressure on the EdTech market will lead to better products that are more valuable and more useful to the end user.

Teachers and Students Are Key Stakeholders

At Panorama Education, we take seriously the feedback survey experience of every student, every teacher, every site coordinator, and every parent we encounter through our work. Even when our contracts are with districts we ask: Are we helping teachers improve their practice? Are we providing information in ways that is immediately useful to educators who are strapped for time and juggling lots of demands? Are we helping principals and teachers have more productive coaching and mentoring conversations?

It is no longer acceptable from a moral or business perspective to build technology and optimize user experience for centralized decision-makers alone. EdTech companies must build for multiple stakeholders, including teachers and students.

As more venture funding comes into the EdTech space, a topic recently covered in The New York Times piece, “Silicon Valley Turns Its Eye to Education,” everyone in this space – from funders and entrepreneurs to teachers and district leaders – needs to understand that schools, teachers, and parents have increasingly more power in a decentralized EdTech market.


Sarah Glover has joined Panorama Education as Outreach Director. Glover previously served as Executive Director of Strategic Partnerships and Executive Director of the Strategic Data Project (SDP) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE).