Driving Innovation 2019: Ed Market Hurdles

What are the main hurdles facing innovators in ed-tech? Which barriers tend to impede taking projects to scale in schools? What constraints can be expected to slow down our best-made sales plans? The COSN 2019 K12 Driving Innovation: Hurdles report, after multiple rounds of Delphi-like voting by expert panelists, has a lot to say about the most worrisome handicaps facing the educational marketplace.

In this first in my series of three articles, we will focus on five hurdles that, according to the Driving K12 Innovation expert panel, greatly impair the adoption of technology in schools. According to the report, these hurdles are “more than pesky obstacles. They are significant organizational and human capacity challenges that force educators to slow down, prepare themselves and—with sufficient practice, knowhow and tools—make the leap to innovation.” The full report can be accessed here.

Hurdle Cover PageAlthough the Driving Innovation: Hurdles 2019 report largely speaks for itself, in this piece I will offer a bit of translation and connection. With full disclosure, I must mention that I served as one of the 111 world-wide panelists who developed this report over many months. The expert panelists included “included leading members of CoSN’s Emerging Technologies Committee, as well as leaders from key U.S. and international education organizations and ministries of education.” Serving as a panelist for the report for the last six years (Driving K–12 Innovation is the successor to the New Media Consortium’s Horizon K–12 reports, a decade-long series that ended in 2017), I can add beneficial nuance to the findings, from an inside perspective. Let’s take a quick look at these five recurring irritants:

Hurdle IconHurdle 1: Scaling and sustaining innovation
Ranked as the most difficult hurdle to overcome, the current capacity of schools to scale and sustain any innovation is, at best, severely constrained. Explained simply, this involves moving an initiative from a few classrooms to many; from a few middle schools to all middle schools; or from a slate of schools to an entire district, all while anticipating and mitigating the eventual and expected entropy, and then maintaining that initiative in a healthy posture for years to come. It just isn’t easy to do in most educational settings. Although this particular skill set is learnable, schools rarely want to slow down, learn from each other (instead of operating in silos), and engage in a thoughtful planning. Without consistent ‘scaling’ strategies, schools are doomed to waste precious momentum and leverage. And without ‘sustaining’ strategies, schools suffer from the completely unnecessary decay of effective initiatives; and they will waste the precious resources they spent getting from point A to B, only to move backwards.

Hurdle IconHurdle 2: Digital equity
The second most difficult hurdle for school adoption of innovative technology involves the equity issue—a level playing field. Equity villains play out their wicked roles in a variety of backdrops: limited access to bandwidth, old and non-replaced hardware, and/or limited perspectives on how to pursue technology innovation well. (Less well-funded schools, for example, tend to use technology less creatively than well-funded schools.)

Hurdle IconHurdle 3: The gap between technology and pedagogy
According to the report, “rapid advances in technology are putting pressure on educators to refresh or shift their approaches to teaching and learning,” and not all schools have caught up. The report advises schools to advantage the following solutions:

    • Avoid the “shiny object syndrome” in purchasing technology
    • Budget for professional development with every technology purchase
    • Monitor the effectiveness of technology and make course corrections

Hurdle IconHurdle 4: Technology and the future of work
The 2019 Driving K12 Innovation report asserts that “now is the time for educators to seriously consider how technologies on the horizon will impact teaching, learning and the world that awaits students in coming years.” One of the chief hurdles lies in the reality that school technology can sometimes become stale in light of what future jobs require; instead, schools settle for the safest, the most comfortable, and the easiest uses of technology. This is something I worry about in teacher education at the University of Colorado-Denver, where I provide direction for both pre-service and inservice teachers—undergrads and post grads alike. To stay relevant with my courses, each semester I conduct detailed environmental scans and conference session scans to see what’s taking shape. And then I update each course, because relevance matters. Because it’s too easy to get in a rut; to keep on doing what we’ve always been doing.

Hurdle IconHurdle 5: Ongoing professional development
The final hurdle that consistently thwarts schools from scaling to innovation is the lack of quality ongoing professional development. Although this hurdle is listed as the most ‘defeatable’ hurdle in the report, allow me to disagree. This hurdle—the lack of quality training for educators—has been with us for a long, long time. As evidence, join me now as we step into my rickety time machine, swirling our way thirty years into the nostalgic past. Let’s go back to 1988, when I was startled to read a front page article in the Wall Street Journal that caused great commotion. The headline read: “Computers Failing as Teaching Aids.” The subtitle continued, ”Heralded Revolution Falls Short Due to Lack of Machines, Training.” I kept a copy of the article for posterity’s sake. Today, I finally resurrect it. I distinctly remember how school boards across the country put the kibosh on all technology purchases for a year, while they contemplated the meaning of its stark warning. Today, however, I ask “If it is such an easy hurdle to leap, then why has this training challenge persisted over so many decades?” Hurdle 5 may be another zombie, threatening to reanimate whenb you expet it the least..


My hope is that dissecting this report helps not only with an understanding of the educational marketplace, it supplies some of the key nomenclature that will help your message resonate with educational customers. I also am suggesting each of these hurdles can also be viewed by our readers as an opportunity to solve a pain point for the education market. Perhaps your product or services can fill the bill. – Len Scrogan