Q&A: Lea(R)n CEO Karl Rectanus on Lessons Learned From the Top 40 EdTech Tools

An annual survey of over 200 schools offers insight into what digital tools K–12 districts are using to improve student outcomes.

K–12 schools are constantly looking for ways to upgrade their education models with digital initiatives. But with so many tools available, it can be hard to determine which are the best to integrate. Lear(R)n, the company behind the digital LearnPlatform, has recently released its second annual EdTech Top 40 list, which includes everything from assessment tools to operational platforms. 

With a new education spending bill set to add to the amount of money available to teachers for digital investments, Lea(R)n’s list could shed some light on the most valuable tools for the classroom. EdTech spoke with Lea(R)n CEO Karl Rectanus about which tools schools are using and what teachers should be looking for in assessment and content tools.

MORE FROM EDTECH: Check out how K–12 schools can maximize their investment in education technology!

EDTECH: What are some of the changes you've noticed in this year’s collection?

RECTANUS: Some things have stayed the same. In fact, for example, a quarter of the tools are just straight-up research resources, and operational tools are another quarter. 

One of the concerns that people sometimes talk about with education technology, or did some time ago, was that people would only be using it to surf social networks. Well, it's clear that that's not the case. There's actually quite a bit of educational activity going on.

One of the other trends we've seen is the continued growth of assessments and more formative assessment tools. 


Photo: Courtesy of LearnPlatform
Karl Rectanus, CEO of LearnPlatform.

EDTECH: Why the growth in assessments? And what does this mean for trends in new learning practices, like individualized learning?

RECTANUS: I think it's worth noting that our mission as an organization is to expand equitable access for all students to the tools that work for them. That's our mission. What you've just highlighted are two ends of the spectrum when it comes to personalizing learning at scale. One of those pieces is the overall EdTech Top 40. If you want to know what you're using that works, you first have to know what you're using. That democratization and use of that data for those insights at a district level are very powerful. 

But, what you're now also seeing is the democratization of those insights for teachers, for educators, who are the ones who are on the ground making decisions for students. With the ease of use, broadband availability, and rapid analysis visualizations, that has allowed teachers to start to make data-driven decisions about personalizing learning for an individual student or at the classroom level. 

That's a fantastic move, that's a trend that you're going to continue to see with individualized learning. What I think you're going to start to see more of moving forward is how the infrastructure of districts can support that. Schools are going to organize, streamline and analyze the efforts that are going on across their districts, so that they move from sort of individualized pockets of excellence to systems of achievement. 

MORE FROM EDTECH: Data analysis is helping teachers assess their students and create effective personalized learning programs!

EDTECH: Where might schools find more use within these categories to improve student outcomes?

RECTANUS: I think what these trends tell us is there is a basic operational infrastructure that you do have to invest a bit in if you're going to really try to drive outcomes. 

First and foremost, there's a level of investment in those operational tools, management systems, evaluation systems, just actual activities that are interoperable, that are safe for students. Those are investments that are table stakes for driving student outcomes. So, I think what you'll see is this continued trend toward the operational tools. Then, the investments in assessment and content and reference are much more valuable. 

I would say the next place you're starting to see this trend is in the formative assessment space, so that you can get the rapid feedback and have the details and data to drive instructional decisions. First, you have to have an operational baseline that is interoperable and safe for kids to be able to drive outcomes. From there, you need rapid analytics that are going to help drive decisions, both at the teacher level and at the district or organization level. 

EDTECH: Google really dominates the top of this list. Have you heard anything from the schools that participate in this about why they prefer Google over other similar tools?

RECTANUS: I would suspect that you're going to have insights that are similar to what you hear from Google products, including cost, ease of use and just general ubiquity. But we've definitely seen the Google sweep for education require lower overhead and more rapid deployment, and the adoption has been significant in a really short period of time if you think about operating system adoptions. 

Also, with Google products, their pathway has often been to start at the individual user and move towards systems. I think you're starting to see people are writing their own learning management systems. I think Google is sort of entering that space, whether people realize it or not.

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Oct 23 2018