EdTech implementations at colleges and universities can often be laborious undertakings, unveiled with words like “transformation” or “disruption.” Dr. Justin Reich, an MIT Professor and online learning expert, wants higher education leaders to stop only framing implementation as big, sweeping changes. Instead, he encourages institutions to approach implementation as a series of incremental improvements.

Dr. Reich was the keynote speaker at the last convening of the College Innovation Network (CIN). There, he shared key insights on implementation gleaned from years of research on how to make EdTech and online learning most effective. Read on for highlights of the recommendations he shared with the CIN member gathering.

Higher education leaders interested in diving deeper can learn more in Dr. Reich’s book, Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can’t Transform Education.

Support a Data-Driven and Collaborative Approach to EdTech Adoption

According to Dr. Reich, implementation of EdTech commonly takes two approaches: a “tinkering stance,” whereby new technologies offer incremental improvements, and a “charismatic stance,” whereby technologies are proposed to “disrupt” and galvanize sweeping change.

In reality, educational institutions typically see small improvements when implementing new technologies — and that’s OK! For educational leaders, it’s important to lionize and authentically celebrate new achievements and improvements. As new technologies and initiatives are implemented, Dr. Reich encourages leaders to focus on continuous, iterative progress.

Optimize Meaningful Implementation by Leveraging Full Institutional Buy-In

It’s almost always challenging to get new initiatives off the ground, especially new classroom technologies. Dr. Reich explained that new practices are more likely to take off across educational institutions as a result of peer-to-peer sharing. In practice, that means a core group of faculty needs to be excited and engaged with the new technology, which will naturally cause them to spread the word among their colleagues.

Educational leaders must nurture engaged faculty and staff to gain broader buy-in across departments and colleges. To build engagement, Dr. Reich suggested bringing people together around ideas they care about. Additionally, leaders should think about aligning new initiatives with existing institutional strategic goals — and making those connections clearly and consistently.

Cycles of Technology Implementation

Dr. Reich stressed thinking about EdTech implementation and evaluation as a continuous, cyclical process, rather than a linear one with a defined end. He encouraged higher education leaders to:

  • Refine cross-organizational visions and get to work
  • Bring people together around ideas they care about
  • Measure progress and adjust as needed
  • Work together through ups and downs

These approaches can help make EdTech implementation more digestible and combat the initiative fatigue that plagues many who work in higher education.

Key Questions to Ask During EdTech Implementation

Throughout the implementation cycle, administrators have a significant role to play. Dr. Reich suggests the most effective way to oversee an EdTech rollout is to continuously ask:

  • Where can I intervene in the process? incermental
  • What are the research and development incentives for improved pedagogy?
  • What structures are in place to learn from new innovations?
  • How do I facilitate faculty sharing with each other?
  • What is our shared vision and language for educational improvements?

As higher education leaders look to not simply add more technology to their learning environments — but rather the right technology — they must also consider how to implement this technology the right way. Reframing how stakeholders view the implementation stage and positioning it as a fluid process, rather than one discrete action, will help ensure that not only does the adoption of the next tool go smoothly, but there is continued appetite for new tools in the future.