Top 4 Reasons Technology-Based Learning Implementations FAIL
When schools and districts engage in technology-based learning initiatives, they often focus on the most immediate needs: purchasing the required hardware, vetting the best content, ensuring classrooms have a reliable internet connection, etc.
While these are all necessary pieces of the puzzle, the initiative can easily be undermined by these four common implementation pitfalls.
1. Inadequate goal-setting
Here’s what to do instead:
At the outset of every implementation, educators must set clear, strategic goals as the foundation for their success. According to the Center for Children and Technology, “To achieve the ultimate goals of improving student achievement and teacher performance and quality, school districts must do the important work of defining success.” This blueprint enables educators to understand the anticipated outcomes of an initiative, along with why it is being introduced, what it will look like in practice, and what is expected of teachers and administrators, ultimately reinforcing that there will be sufficient support to meet those goals. Examples of goals include:
Reworking classroom structure, schedule, and management to support sustainable student usage
Helping improve educators’ overall comfort level around using technology in adjusted classroom processes (e.g. station rotation/centers) by midyear
Developing SMART goals such as increasing the number of K–1 students reading at grade level from 40% to 90% by the end of the year
2. Inflexibility of implementation
Here’s what to do instead:
Effective instructional methods must flexibly adapt to the needs of each student, and the same is true for successful implementation plans. Although a pilot program may show great success, that blueprint must be flexible enough to scale if it is to be implemented district-wide. There are a range of factors that can vary from school to school, as well as variables that may change at a particular school as the year progresses. For example, teachers may have varying skill levels in regard to new technology, the needs of the student population may change over time, access to tablets and computers may vary, and changes in the amount of instructional time available may affect implementation fidelity.
Since there is no guarantee of an immutable school year, it is critically important to choose a flexible program that can accommodate change. If the program only works in one specific framework, it ultimately serves only a small portion of the population. According to Jeanne Allen, industry specialist and founder of the Center for Education Reform, “Infusing our traditional education system with freedom, flexibility, and accountability would allow technology to aid our educational progress in meaningful ways.”
3. Lack of ongoing training opportunities
Here’s what to do instead:
According to the Center on Implementing Technology in Education, “Teachers must have frequent opportunities for in-depth and active learning that is authentic and useful in their daily practice.” However, for many new program implementations, initial training is conducted in a single session during August—a time when teachers are focused on starting the new year and busy preparing their classrooms and lessons.
The center suggests that, “In order to ensure implementation of new strategies, teachers need to have ample time to practice in their own classrooms." While a strong initial training session is key to setting the foundation for success, school districts may be able increase likelihood of implementation success by establishing an incremental training strategy that provides educators with the appropriate amount of time to digest new concepts and adapt them for their classrooms.
Because of the dynamic nature of schools and classrooms, it is likely that educators’ needs will evolve over the course of the school year, and newly emerging issues in January may not have been addressed in the initial training session back in August. Therefore, when administrators are developing their blueprints, it is crucial to outline the resources available to support teachers’ evolving needs throughout the year. These resources may include:
Access to online training videos, webinars, guides, FAQs
Regularly scheduled meetings to review data and address emerging issues
Refresher sessions on previously covered topics
A team of peer mentors who meet regularly to review implementation and adjust support based on real-time metrics
4. Failure to monitor implementation
Here’s what to do instead:
Successful implementation requires monitoring progress toward goals and milestones throughout the year. Even the strongest initial implementation has a high likelihood of failure without a team of peer mentors who meet regularly to review implementation and adjust support. New initiatives can encounter a variety of roadblocks, but with proper monitoring, teachers and administrators can adapt accordingly, addressing small problems before they evolve into large issues that could threaten the entire implementation. Below are a few examples of the importance of ongoing monitoring of school or district goals:
Data indicates new instructional needs
In most cases, the implementation blueprint will define specific student outcome goals as indicators of success. Closely monitoring student assessment data will help educators determine the effectiveness of the implementation, as well as identify any necessary adjustments. For example, an analysis of a mid-year screening assessment may reveal that the district is falling short of its goal to improve oral language skills for the English language learner (ELL) population. Using this data, the district can adjust its implementation plan by augmenting its instructional materials, increasing the amount of reading instructional time for ELLs, or providing additional paraprofessional support for certain classes.
New teachers unfamiliar with the program have come on board
With the inevitable staffing changes that occur throughout the school year, principals may find that teachers’ level of program expertise becomes uneven as the year progresses. Effective monitoring of program implementation will identify these gaps in training, which enables the principal to support teachers before their unfamiliarity with the program has an adverse impact on implementation success and student outcomes.
Student population has changed
In multi-year implementations, administrators may find that the demographics within their district shift significantly, resulting in dramatically different instructional needs from year to year. Alternatively, high student mobility rates can affect the instructional needs of each classroom within a school district throughout the year. In either case, these shifts can result in a dynamic and complex instructional challenge. By closely monitoring the skill profiles and instructional needs of the student population, districts can adapt how a program is implemented by adjusting instructional intensity, providing specialized instructional skills, and/or supplementing the instructional resources available.
If your school is considering new edtech or is currently in the process of implementing new technology, keep these four pitfalls in the back of your mind during your decision-making process. Most importantly, remember the importance of planning, goal setting, and clear communication to ensure your implementation is as successful as possible.
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