Students using edtech
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Matching Edtech with Student Learning Needs

By Jennifer Gunn

When it comes to students and edtech, one size does not fit all. Buying a product for whole-school use may not be the best plan. Here’s a look at how schools can match edtech products to specific learning needs and goals and help students succeed.

Every learner is unique

In considering any edtech tool, it’s important to remember that the acquisition of tools does not ensure success because students have different needs, interests, strengths, and weaknesses. “Every learner is unique, and a one-size-fits-all education model fits no learner perfectly,” says LEAP Innovations, a Chicago-based nonprofit that seeks to personalize the learning experiences of students. “Collaborating with schools, districts, edtech companies, and thought leaders, we work to make personalized learning a reality in every classroom by bridging the gap between education and innovation.” That bridge is an important step in aligning the needs of the classroom more directly to the entrepreneurial work.

In schools, merely purchasing a new tool with the expectation that it gets used by an entire school can actually alienate the students who do not benefit from the tool. It also leaves out the pathway for personalization and negates the importance of goal-setting for student needs in favor of a blanket solution for all. “If developed, refined, and put into practice, the ideas that undergird personalized learning approaches could help ensure that all students find the right fit and get what they need. An education that responds to each student is something that every parent knows is valuable,” says The Center on Reinventing Public Education. While it’s tempting to buy bulk licensing or to roll out new apps to the entire staff, broad access doesn’t necessarily equal equity.

Goal setting for learners

This is a critical first step in matching edtech with student learning needs. Instead of buying an edtech tool for students and then considering how you want to use it, plan your student learning goals first and consider the best tools for the job.

  • What do students need to build knowledge?
  • What do students need to build skills?
  • What learning modality best fits the student’s learning style?
  • What supports or enrichments might your students need that an edtech tool can provide?

“Today’s digital instructional tools can help teachers personalize instruction for students,” says Eileen Rudden, co-founder of LearnLaunch, a Boston-based education innovation hub that connects and supports innovators and educators. “It may require some investment on the teacher’s part to plan how to integrate a tool with her curriculum and how to use the data generated. But the data provided can help teachers with the hundreds of decisions they make each day, such as which students to group together for small group instruction, or which students need more practice in a particular concept.”

Letting go of the “for all” mentality

Not every student needs the same tool and rapid general expansion of technology into classrooms doesn’t automatically close digital divides or so-called achievement gaps. True equity isn’t about everyone having the same thing, it’s about everyone having what they need. Thus, we must tailor edtech tool purchasing and usage more directly to student needs. Maybe one student needs a game-based platform to help build content knowledge, while another needs an incentive-based program to stay focused, while still another doesn’t learn best through technology. “Generally speaking in schools, it’s a good bet that if you introduce a new technology, it will be used to extend existing practices, and it won’t be a catalyst for disruptive innovation,” says Justin Reich, assistant professor of comparative media studies at MIT and co-founder of EdTechTeacher. Technology does not itself improve student outcomes or interrupt inequity. Without conscious and intentional personalization, integration plans, and matching tools to student needs, we’re just perpetuating current systems with new tools. 

A tool for edtech selection

Educators can get connected and share their honest thoughts with edtech designers, creators, and other users. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) launched its Edtech Advisor platform in June of 2018. “ISTE Edtech Advisor, available free to all ISTE members, will allow educators to confidently find and share information about the tech tools they use, discover new tools and apps, and access reviews, ratings, and input from a trusted community of tech-savvy educators,” ISTE says. This platform makes it possible to thoroughly research educational technology tools before purchasing for students. “Educators count on peer feedback when selecting edtech tools, but it can be difficult to secure reliable recommendations. Edtech Advisor, powered by LearnPlatform, with a database of over 5,000 tools, allows ISTE members to access detailed reviews and feedback from peers.”

Jennifer L.M. Gunn spent 10 years in newspaper and magazine publishing before moving to public education, where she has been for nearly a decade. She is a curriculum designer and public high school educator in New York City. Jennifer is the creator of Right to Read, a literacy acceleration program for urban adolescent youth that’s steeped in social justice. She is an education writer and co-founder of the annual EDxEDNYC Education Conference, which won the New York City Department of Education Excellence in School Technology Award this year. Jennifer regularly presents at conferences on the topics of adolescent literacy, leadership, and education innovation. Follow Jennifer online at or on Twitter.

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