Five Ways to Assess the Value of Education Products and Technology

The old is new again. It’s amazing how, in our quest for the next best thing, we can overlook the value of what we already have.

Take the turntable, for example. For people of a certain age, the turntable and vinyl records were the primary way to listen to audio recordings. As technology evolved and people looked to extend their control of music listening from the living room to their cars and everywhere else, new technologies supplanted the old turntable.

While their sound quality and user interfaces weren’t necessarily ideal, 8-track and cassette tapes soon became the mobile listening rage. These were followed by CDs and digital media devices such as the iPod. And now we’ve moved into digital streaming technologies.

And yet, the good old turntable continues on. And, along with vinyl records, it is growing in popularity once again.

This can be attributed, in part, to nostalgia, but mostly to the unique lossless playback format provided by vinyl. Of course, it’s easier to appreciate the value of that playback format now that we have so many contrasting listening experiences.

This renewed appreciation of the format’s value is why, instead of searching for the big new thing, many are returning to the old thing.

Perhaps not surprisingly, thinking about turntables prompted me to reflect on curriculum, instruction, and learning. Things have certainly changed since I taught my first language course in 1979. Since the advent of personal computers, digital learning technologies, and the Internet, it often seems as if we’ve been on a single relentless quest for new technologies and new methodologies for teaching and learning.

We have seen tremendous investments in learning solutions and technologies by institutions, publishers, other education providers, and technology companies. And, as has happened with audio playback technologies, there is significant debate about the value of each.

So, how do we measure the value of these new formats? And how should we compare them to older, more traditional formats?

I would propose these five criteria for determining the value of learning methodologies, educational business models, new learning technologies, and other innovations.

1. It increases learning potential — The primary determiner of value for learning methodologies, learning technologies, and learning products should be their learning impact. Do they give more learners the opportunity to increase their learning, to understand concepts more deeply, and to demonstrate their learning in meaningful ways?

2. It improves the overall learning experience — Valuable learning solutions improve the learning experience by making learning relevant and engaging, and by promoting learner agency.

3. It increases equitable access — Education institutions and learning technologies have the greatest value when they are accessible to everyone. This means that they are affordable for everyone, flexible enough to support a wide range of user needs and preferences, and created so that they can be used by anyone, regardless of their background or challenges.

4. It lowers operational costs associated with instruction and distribution –Teaching and supporting students at scale can be a costly business. Truly valuable solutions will address the operational costs of education and help institutions consider and introduce new, cost-effective business models.

5. It lowers product prices for the consumer — Institutions and companies producing/delivering education solutions should realize that the greatest impact and largest markets for their products are available through affordable pricing.

Rob Reynolds, Ph.D.
Executive Director, TEL Library

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