New Gates Report Reveals Gaps and Opportunities for Product Developers

Teachers Know Best: What Educators Want from Digital Instructional Tools is the newly released education report Annie TeichBill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 3,100 public school teachers and 1,250 public school students in grades 3-12 were surveyed. The study revealed that teachers are actively looking for student-facing digital instructional tools tied to the new Common Core and Next Generation Science standards. And, they are generally optimistic about the ability of digital instructional tools to be beneficial to students. However, large numbers of teachers believe that products that meet specific instructional purposes are either not available or are ineffective. These gaps provide opportunities for product developers and education marketers.

Teachers identified six instructional purposes for which digital instructional tools are beneficial:

  • Delivering instruction directly to students
  • Diagnosing student learning needs
  • Varying the delivery method of instruction
  • Tailoring the learning experience to meet individual student needs
  • Supporting student collaboration and providing interactive experiences
  • Fostering independent practice of specific skills

Less than half of teachers report that there are sufficient numbers of digital instructional products to choose from in the market. They report that the least amount of digital instructional materials tied to standards are in the following areas:

  • Elementary ELA grades K-5
  • High school Math grades 9-12
  • Middle school Social Studies grades 6-8
  • Science – all grades K-12

It’s interesting that teachers tell the foundation they don’t have sufficient digital tools to choose from because many product developers are challenged to receive ongoing feedback about what teachers need and want. Ironically, the study concludes that this absence of useful market information has led to a mismatch between the kinds of digital instructional tools that teachers say they actually need and the kinds of products companies are creating and school districts are buying.

The research identified three different types of gaps in the digital instructional tools market:

  • Availability gaps – an absence of available digital instructional tools
  • Usage gaps –students are not directed to use the available digital products
  • Perceived effectiveness gaps – products are not perceived as effective

Some teachers complained to the Gates Foundation that some current technologies are not rigorous enough to be useful or said they needed a broader range of options for personalization and more opportunities for students to assess their own progress. It is of utmost importance to product developers and marketers to ensure they understand these gaps and address them through better product development or more effective marketing. The report notes several other positive signs in the digital instructional tools marketplace.

Currently, investors are funding more student-facing digital products – those used directly by students for learning. At the same time, districts are piloting many digital products, as well as building up their hardware and networking capacities. The Gates report validates the findings of MCH Data’s own Principal’s Survey,  which reported last fall that principals felt their budgets had bottomed out and that they hoped to increase their spending on instructional materials in the coming year. Schools and districts have also been waiting for the availability of products well aligned to the Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards.

Sadly, 47 percent of the 964 digital instructional products that exist in the market today were not mentioned a single time as one of the top five tools teachers direct their students to use frequently. It seems a valid conclusion to state that there is a mismatch between what teachers believe they need and what the market is providing them.

In their conclusions, the Gates report writers advise educators, developers, and investors to work together more closely:

To ensure that instructional resources reach their intended impact, all three groups must use their collective resources to tackle the important challenge of improving existing products and creating new ones that better meet the needs of teachers and students.

Click here to view the report in its entirety.