Navigating the vast landscape of edtech tools can be a daunting and time-consuming task for educators and school systems. Too often, it’s difficult to know which tools are worthwhile—and in which contexts they work best.

We explored solutions to this challenge through our Progress in Action campaign last month. One promising new solution is LearnPlatform, an online tool and community that helps educators, schools, and districts grade digital products, gain insights, and manage their edtech tools. We spoke with Karl Rectanus, the CEO and cofounder of Lea(R)n (the company behind LearnPlatform), about how educators are using the tool and how the edtech industry can continue to evolve.

How and why did you create LearnPlatform (previously LearnTrials)?

I was a classroom teacher and then a CFO for schools. Since then, I’ve built three education innovation organizations—and consulted with many others—to help educators and their districts and universities as they focus on improving outcomes and budgets. But it’s been too painful for all sides!

We believe educators deserve a voice in the tools they use to improve student learning, and administrators deserve timely, trustworthy insights and quantifiable data to build the capacity of their students and teachers, inform budget decisions, and improve purchasing power.

Our founding team of educators, researchers, and technologists worked with hundreds of educators to build the LearnPlatform. Through research, we found that five-star rating systems don’t help teachers, but product differentiation was critical, so we created a platform that saves teachers time while harnessing their expertise very quickly. They can see and share their experiences with more than 4,000 products in our product library, differentiate products across the eight most important criteria to teachers—like how easy a product is to use or how well it aligns with learning objectives—and ask questions of each other to quickly understand what those products do in situations like their own. Administrators also told us that if we automated the process to pull in public data on every school in the U.S., pricing information, student achievement, and usage data, they would be able to give teachers a louder voice, see and share with districts like themselves, run product pilots and evaluations more quickly, and save a LOT of money on their edtech spending. But, most importantly, we’d finally be harnessing educators’ expertise and real data to figure out what works best for which kids in which situations.

We’ve grown quickly, with over 10,000 educators utilizing the system already!

What have been the reactions of educators who use LearnPlatform? How has it made an impact on their practice?

We design with, by, and for educators, so most of the reaction has been “where have you been all our life?”!  Educators have told us the free LearnCommunity feels like a research-based “TripAdvisor for EdTech”, and that our framework improves their confidence and capacity to differentiate edtech for their needs.

Administrators also love it, especially since they are identifying 20-60 percent savings across their edtech in the first 90 days. They also aren’t having to juggle 20-30 vendor sales calls a day anymore, since our procurement engine takes care of that. They are changing purchasing, budgeting, and instructional decisions with the insights they’re gaining on their own organizations. And, finally, they all say they love that they can trust the LearnPlatform because it’s theirs: there are no ads, no fees, and no kickbacks; we have no motivation to push products. Our team even gets hand-written ‘thank you’ cards from teachers and administrators. It’s great!

How do you think teachers’ feedback within the LearnPlatform is shaping how developers design and improve their products?

It’s a huge factor—or at least they’d like it to be. One of the things we hear constantly from edtech founders is they want more data and more feedback, but teachers are so busy and data is hard to analyze. Currently, companies can see the high-level feedback teachers are making about their products, and soon they’ll be able to see deeper insights from teachers in real time so that they can improve their products even more quickly.

What recommendations do you have for school or district leaders who are responsible for adopting edtech tools? How can they make smart decisions?

Great districts are doing three things.

First: Know Thyself.  By baselining where they are now, districts are giving teachers and administrators a voice in decision-making. The LearnPlatform provides a unified edtech ecosystem to share their learning and manage all their edtech in one place. Rapid pilots or knowing what other “districts like us” use and learn is no longer time-consuming or out of reach.

Secondly, we now know that less than five percent of paid student licenses are used to “fidelity” — the recommended amount to achieve intended outcomes. By analyzing their own product usage, student achievement, and pricing, great districts are identifying how to increase usage for the products that work, if they’re using the products they’re paying for, and where to invest to improve outcomes.

Finally, great districts connect all their new and next edtech purchases to their needs—they’re not distracted by the shiny toy or the product with the most marketing.

How would you like to see the edtech landscape evolve in the next five years?

When efficacy matters, everything changes. Instruction, policies, purchasing, and product development all evolve when there is a rapid, reliable focus on outcomes and impact. The capacity of educators and their districts will increase. We’ll see the edtech landscape level for product companies, too—not based on the biggest companies or the largest marketing budgets, but on the merit and impact of their products. And we hope it will lead to a level of learning and new understanding that fuels massive achievement gains for all students!