To gain traction in any market, including higher education, companies must build trust. For the majority of people, trust is even more important than cost. But according to the College Innovation Network’s (CIN) Annual EdTech Faculty Survey, there is a gap between perceived value and trust in tools to deliver what companies promise.
The survey findings show that 83% percent of faculty respondents recognize that EdTech enhances teaching and learning experiences, and 73% agreed that technology is essential to student engagement and success. However, 56% reported that it is difficult to know whether an EdTech product will work effectively. This misalignment reveals four ways founders can rethink their approach to building, marketing, and selling EdTech in higher education
1. Share Success Stories
In addition to questions related to benefits and concerns about tools, the survey asked faculty what information could help them trust EdTech more. The top response was seeing successful implementations in other institutions. EdTech companies could benefit by gathering evidence not only on tangible benefits for instruction and learning but also on successful product rollouts at institutions. Case studies could include how effectively a new product was marketed to faculty, whether faculty and students were given effective training and support for learning the product, the timing of the rollout, and how well the product was integrated into existing structures and systems. EdTech founders should remember that qualitative data, such as testimonials, can also be powerful vehicles for building trust with potential customers.
The survey asked about two other trust-building factors — evaluation data and collaboration in determining solutions for their institutions — and faculty indicated high preferences for this kind of information as well. The even distribution of responses demonstrates the value of focusing on all three categories equally rather than investing heavily in just one.
2. Gain Faculty Buy-In
Faculty perceive that those furthest from the classroom have the greatest influence on EdTech decisions. Among survey respondents, 87% said college administrators have high levels of influence. In comparison, 61% agreed that faculty have high levels of influence.
A strong sales strategy clearly identifies the final decision maker, and in higher education that can often be college administrators. However, it’s just as important to identify secondary stakeholders who influence not only the decision to purchase a tool but also its use — especially for products targeting large teams that teach courses with multiple sections.
As noted earlier, faculty ultimately determine how any technology is adopted in their courses. If faculty do not believe they have input in these processes, they will be less likely to champion available products to their peers and less likely to incorporate these products into their teaching practices, which could impact everything from customer retention to new business referrals. To gain faculty buy-in, consider creating a one-pager that addresses faculty pain points directly, building a thoughtful implementation plan, or including faculty voices in research and design.
3. Support, Don’t Replace, Instruction
Faculty recognize that EdTech use will increase in the near future. In the survey, 86% of faculty agreed that they will spend more time delivering course content online and that instructors will use more educational technology tools in class. However, roughly a third of faculty had negative feelings about institutions offering increasing numbers of online courses and programs. This pattern of responses suggests that faculty view programs that augment traditional in-person methods positively, whereas they are less positive about offerings that could replace in-person instruction.
In order to build trust with faculty, EdTech founders should keep in mind the preference for tools that supplement, not supplant, teaching. Rather than approaching technology as a replication of traditional instructional models, products should be built to support a new learning model that leverages both the capabilities of tech and the expertise of faculty.
4. Build Interoperable Products
The COVID-19 pandemic created a host of tech-related and non-tech-related challenges for higher education faculty. Among those challenges are high levels of technology fatigue and burnout. Over two-thirds of faculty surveyed agreed that they feel as if they are always “on the job” because of technology, and that there are days they do not want to use technology because they need a break from it. Forty-three percent of faculty reported they stopped using one or more tools in the past year because they were tired of technology.
If faculty are fatigued by technology, they may be less likely to adopt new tools and to use existing tools as intended, diminishing the benefits to students and hurting companies’ abilities to market new products. By focusing on designing tools to be interoperable and promoting the way EdTech works with existing tools, company founders could help faculty members overcome feelings of fatigue.
EdTech leaders can also use these findings to inform product road maps. Putting the survey responses in the context of the rush to technology during the pandemic, the findings signal that faculty need tools that are adaptable to changing contexts. When tools fail to scale they become an annoyance instead of an asset. Building products that take into account faculty’s evolving needs and can scale effectively will help EdTech products remain relevant and in demand.
The success of an EdTech tool relies on a company’s understanding of faculty’s needs and roles in purchase decisions, adoption, and use. By using findings like those in the EdTech Faculty Survey, founders can build strong trust-based relationships with faculty and better anticipate the needs of the market, positioning their company for future growth.