EdTech isn’t going anywhere. Colleges and universities have reported a 19% increase in the introduction of learning technologies over the past few years. But EdTech startups should prepare for a slow and arduous adoption process.  

What drives the pace of adoption in higher education? What steps can EdTech companies take to get effective tools in the hands of learners sooner? The College Innovation Network (CIN) aimed to find out.

CIN is a grant-funded initiative led by WGU Labs, that connects higher education institutions with EdTech solutions to boost student belonging, facilitate engagement, and promote equity. During the last convening of administrators from CIN member institutions, attendees discussed common barriers around EdTech adoption.

Reason #1: Distrust in a Risky Startup Market

The EdTech market is flooded with startups looking to break into the field. But as with all startup businesses, there’s risk. Many EdTech companies fail. In any industry, those failures provide some disruption to customers. But in education, failure can force a major shift. Lost time and money, as well as the effect on learners’ academic experiences and futures, are all serious consequences of unsuccessful education product rollouts. High failure rates erode trust and confidence in partnerships with early-stage companies. Institutions are then, understandably, hesitant to adopt new, innovative solutions.

To overcome this barrier, EdTech companies need to demonstrate past success and offer continued support. Testimonials and funding announcements can show potential customers a company’s traction in the market. A strong customer success team, including a dedicated implementation manager, that guides the rollout — and, if needed, offboarding — can alleviate stress and provide assurance to higher education leaders.

Reason #2: Implementation Challenges

CIN members cited a lack of resources as one of the biggest challenges to EdTech implementation at their institutions. Limited time, tight budgets, and talent shortages in higher education can strain or slow technology adoption at scale — especially if there’s no guarantee of its effectiveness.

Another challenge administrators identified was resistance among faculty to new solutions. Gaining buy-in from faculty to start using a new tool is often a long and arduous process. And even after there is alignment, usage rates may lag among faculty members because of the previously mentioned lack of time, mistrust of tools, or tedious implementation processes.

The more guidance an EdTech company can provide during implementation the better. Creating implementation guides — including written materials, online tutorials, and a robust knowledge center — provides higher education leaders with the resources they need during a product rollout.

Beyond self-guided resources, an implementation manager could make the process less of a burden. Along with building trust, as mentioned above, a dedicated support person who quickly answers questions and offers solutions could be a welcome help to overwhelmed administrators and faculty members.

Reason #3: Lack of Relevant Research

Many higher education leaders at the CIN convening reported that when evaluating EdTech, it was difficult to find comparable examples for their institution. These leaders want to see success stories from similar organizations before investing their resources in new technology. This challenge is exacerbated by insufficient access to relevant data, which prevents institutions from being able to thoroughly assess the potential effectiveness of a tool. Yet even when that data is available, institutions often have limited expertise in analyzing and reporting, rendering the information unusable.

Case studies are powerful tools to prove efficacy. As EdTech companies scale, documenting rollouts to build a library of success stories can show potential customers the impact of a particular tool. Highlighting results as well as tagging case studies with relevant institutional profile information (i.e., institution size, student demographics, geographic location, etc.) can help potential customers make informed decisions.

Higher education is a unique market that requires vendors to build close relationships with customers. By understanding the unique challenges institutions face, EdTech companies will be better positioned to enable faster adoption and more successful product implementation.